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Haj tour operators demand lifting of service tax
Tuesday September 3, 2013 5:44 PM, IINA

Indian Haj & Umrah Association, an umbrella body of private tour operators (PTOs) from south India, demanded the Indian government's urgent intervention to withdraw the decision to impose service tax on them.

"It is unjust to impose a 12 percent service tax on PTOs when they are struggling for survival due to a sharp cut in the number of allotted pilgrims and depreciation of Indian rupee", leaders of the Association said.

T. Muhammad Haris, General Secretary of the Association, said that a number of PTOs have received notice from the Indian government asking them to pay the service tax.

"Imposing service tax on pilgrims would have far reaching consequences in a pluralist society like India. There is every possibility to impose service tax on pilgrims coming under the Central Haj Committee in coming years," he said, noting that believers of other religions like Hindus and Christians might eventually come under the service tax.

Maulavi Mohammed Kutty Hyder, President of the Association and Director of Al-Irshad Haj Group, said that the Association approached the Indian federal government to withdraw the decision to impose service tax.

"We presented a memorandum to India's Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and other leaders. If the government would go ahead with a service tax of 12 percent per pilgrim, we have no option but to increase the Haj tour fare", they said while noting that PTOs are already paying service tax for air tickets and demand drafts taken for the Haj tour operation.

They also noted that the move to hand over the contract for provision of meals for Haj pilgrims to catering companies in the Kingdom would make the pilgrimage much costlier and unaffordable at least for the middle class pilgrims.

Haris, who is also proprietor of India's leading tour operator Al Hind Tours & Travels, said that PTOs are largely hit by this year's decision to cut Haj quota by 20 percent.

"Last year, the quota for PTOs was 45,000 but this year it was reduced less than one-third to 14,600. The maximum quota allotted to a PTO is 58," he said, while noting that Al Hind and Akbar Travel & Tours received a quota of 58 pilgrims each against more than 500 pilgrims last year.

C. Muhammad Bashir, Secretary of the Association and Director of Najath Khidamtul Hujaj, and Ahammad Devarkovil, executive committee member of the Association and proprietor of Rollex Haj & Umrah Travel & Tours, said that the new rules and regulations have made private Haj tour operation less attractive.

The number of travel and tour groups under the Association that received license for Haj tour operation this year fell to 36 from 86 last year. There is a new Saudi regulation to open separate account in a local bank in the Kingdom by each tour operator. The account with a 10-month validity will be used for meeting expenses of housing, catering, transportation, expense for guides in Madinah, and charges for the Ministry of Haj, they said.

At the same time, the Association leaders expressed satisfaction over a considerable fall in rent in Makkah and Madinah due to the 20 percent cut in the quota of foreign pilgrims and 50 percent cut on domestic pilgrims. Mohammed Ali, proprietor of Al-Abrar Haj Group, said that there is around 30 percent fall in the rent at major hotels and residential buildings in the holy cities.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia had allotted a quota of 170,000 pilgrims from India for Haj this year, But as a result of 20 percent cut in quota later, now a total of 120,303 pilgrims have finally been selected for performing Haj under the Central Haj Committee plus14,600 pilgrims through PTOs.

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