India fully digitizes Hajj process

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten welcomed India’s Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in the presence of Ambassador Ausaf Sayeed and Consul General Noor Rahman Sheikh in Jeddah. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 December 2019

India fully digitizes Hajj process

  • Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi: This will ensure that Indian pilgrims get information about the building and room allotted to them, as well as transportation details within Saudi Arabia
  • During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in February this year, the country’s Hajj quota was increased from 170,000 to 200,000 for the year 2020

NEW DELHI: India has become the first country in the world to entirely digitize the Hajj application process.

“This will ensure that Indian pilgrims get information in India about the building and room allotted to them, as well as transportation details for travel after reaching the airport in Saudi Arabia,” India’s Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said after signing an agreement with Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten in Jeddah on Sunday.

The E-Medical Assistance System for Indian Pilgrims Abroad (e-Masiha) has been created “to deal with any emergency in Makkah and Madinah,” Naqvi added.

It is an online system to create and maintain a complete health database of Indian pilgrims along with doctors’ prescriptions, medical treatment and medicine disbursal.

“This is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign,” Naqvi said, thanking the Saudi government for playing “an active and effective role in ensuring the safety of, and better facilities for, Indian pilgrims.”

This “has strengthened bilateral relations between the two countries,” which “have achieved newer heights under the leadership and guidance of King Salman … and Prime Minister Modi,” Naqvi added.

During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in February this year, the country’s Hajj quota was increased from 170,000 to 200,000 for the year 2020.

The digitization of the Hajj process has received mixed reactions in India, with some calling it a step toward transparency, and others calling it impractical.

“No doubt the digitization is for transparency with the pilgrimage. It will also help with better coordination,” Habibullah Ansari, 65, who is planning to perform Hajj in 2020, told Arab News.

“But the problem is that most of the people going for Hajj aren’t literate, and they’re from rural and semi-rural areas and are digitally challenged,” he said.

“The government should keep the offline process open also. In my case, my nephew is helping out in filling the digital form.”

Sahil Akram, from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said: “Two years ago when I went on Hajj with my parents, the whole process was tiresome. I hope the digitization brings much-needed transparency and helps in the smooth facilitation of the Hajj pilgrimage.”

Zafarul Islam, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, welcomed the digitization, but said he is “apprehensive about its success as two-thirds of the people applying for the Hajj quota are semi-illiterate or illiterate.”

He added: “I know many people who are facing problems in registering themselves this time because of the digitization.”

He said: “I’ll suggest that the offline process should be available for those who aren’t well-versed with computers. Otherwise agents will have a heyday in this situation.”

New Delhi-based journalist Afroz Alam Sahil, who works for the Urdu-language daily Dawat, told Arab News that while the digitization is much-needed, “agents have started cropping up who charge extra money from illiterate people for filling forms online.”

India has “different categories of Hajj pilgrims,” he said. “Suppose you fill a form in a category where you aren’t entitled, then villagers will have a tough time getting their money back ... They don’t know how money is transferred digitally. People should have the option of filling the form online and offline.”


Interpol warns of ‘alarming’ cybercrime rate during pandemic

Updated 18 min 11 sec ago

Interpol warns of ‘alarming’ cybercrime rate during pandemic

  • Cybercriminals are increasingly using disruptive malware against critical infrastructure and health care institutions
  • There was also an increase in the spread of fake news and misinformation which sometimes itself conceals malware

LYON: Global police body Interpol warned Monday of an “alarming” rate of cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic, with criminals taking advantage of people working from home to target major institutions.
An assessment by the Lyon-based organization found a “significant target shift” by criminals from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure.
“Cybercriminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace, exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and economic situation created by COVID-19,” said Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock.
“The increased online dependency for people around the world is also creating new opportunities, with many businesses and individuals not ensuring their cyberdefenses are up to date,” he added.
The report said cybercriminals were sending COVID-19 themed phishing emails — which seek to obtain confidential data from users — often impersonating government and health authorities.
Cybercriminals are increasingly using disruptive malware against critical infrastructure and health care institutions, it added.
In the first two weeks of April 2020, there was a rise in ramsomware attacks, in which users have to pay money to get their computer to work again.
There was also an increase in the spread of fake news and misinformation which sometimes itself conceals malware, said Interpol.
From January to April, some 907,000 spam messages, 737 incidents related to malware and 48,000 malicious URLs — all related to COVID-19 were detected by one of Interpol’s private sector partners, it said.
The agency warned the trend was set to continue and a “further increase in cybercrime is highly likely in the near future.”
“Vulnerabilities related to working from home and the potential for increased financial benefit will see cybercriminals continue to ramp up their activities and develop more advanced and sophisticated” methods, it said.
Once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Interpol said, “it is highly probable that there will be another spike in phishing related to these medical products as well as network intrusion and cyberattacks to steal data.”