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    New haj policy comes in for flak

    KABUL (PAN): Some religious scholars have criticised the Ministry of Haj for receiving money in advance from intending pilgrims, suspecting the ministry may have entered a secret deal with the Afghan Millie Bank, where the advance has been deposited.   

    Haj pilgrims are chosen each year through a ballot process under a quota allotted to districts, but the ministry has now come up with a new idea, selecting pilgrims for three years. Participants of the ballot would go for haj on their turn in the next three years, but they have to deposit the money in advance.

    Each pilgrim is required to pay 50,000 afghanis in the bank on registration day and should pay the remainder in a year’s time ahead of going to Saudi Arabia. The ministry says the money it had received in advance would be deposited in a savings.

    Up to 46,000 people have so far been chosen for performing the ritual over the next three years, with each depositing 50,000 afghanis in the bank. 

    Religious scholar Maulvi Shamsur Rahman Frotan criticised the new process, asking what made the ministry to take money from pilgrims two or three years before the pilgrimage.

    “I have no evidence, but it seems a deal has taken place between the ministry and the bank.'' He said the bank would definitely use the money for transactions.

    Another religious scholar, Mohammad Hassan Haqyar, said there was no need to receive money in advance from pilgrims.  "Receiving money in advance has no religious aspect, but one can definitely take advantage of the money during the two years’ time.'' he.

    Professor of Economics at Kabul University, Saifuddin Saihon, said: "As an economist, it looks illogical to me that the money is collected three years earlier and is kept it in the bank. Who knows what happens in the next three years and what kind of services the pilgrims would need.''

    But Deputy Haj Minister Daeeul Haq Abid said there was no deal involved, saying that the move was aimed at bringing reforms to the haj process. He claimed similar procedures were followed in Iran, Malaysia and Turkey.

    “Under the contract among the Afghan Millie Bank and ministries of hajj and finance, the bank cannot use the deposited money for trade deals,'' he explained.

    The bank’s head, Muhibullah Safi, in response to a question about the deposits, said: "It is too early to talk on this issue.'' He added the ministry concerned should be asked such questions.

    An intending pilgrim, Mohammad Qasim, 58, from Dara-i-Noor district of eastern Nangarhar, said his turn to go for hajj would come in 2013 based on the ballot process.