PM's Intervention Sought for Kashmir's Haj Pilgrims

Srinagar, Oct 6 (IANS) The 6,700 pilgrims from the Kashmir Valley going for the Haj this year want Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervenes after Saudi Airlines refused to operate from the Srinagar airport.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah sought the prime minister's intervention when he met him in the capital Monday.

"Omar Abdullah wanted the prime minister's help for over 6,700 Haj pilgrims from the state in the absence of a direct flight from Srinagar to Jeddah this year," a government official said here.

"In case, Saudi Airlines sticks to its stand of not operating direct flights from Srinagar, we will have to make some alternative arrangement of carrying the pilgrims to Delhi, from where they would board the flights for Jeddah," the official added.

The state government is hoping that Saudi Airlines reconsiders its decision. The pilgrims are scheduled to begin travelling to Saudi Arabia Oct 9.

Air India lost the bid this year to Saudi Airlines for ferrying pilgrims from India. Since Saudi Airlines does not operate from Srinagar, Kashmiri pilgrims will have to travel to New Delhi before flying to Jeddah.

The state government hopes for some "special arrangement" for the pilgrims from the state, an official with the chief minister said.

Since 2000, direct flights for Haj started directly from Srinagar.

An official statement quoting the chief minister said: "I have sought prime minister's intervention, and we hope we bring some respite to the pilgrims from my state."

This year, 6,776 pilgrims from the Valley are to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah.


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