Saudi Arabia to announce Haj, Umrah plans amidst covid scare

News Network
June 7, 2021

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Riyadh, June 7: Announcements about this year’s Haj could be made in the coming days as the Kingdom completes its assessments of the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, said the acting Saudi minister of media, Dr Majid Al Qasabi.

At a press conference held in Riyadh on Sunday, Al Qasabi said the Saudi authorities are following up on (the pandemic) updates and the ministers of Haj and Umrah and health will soon announce a decision.

He said that, due to Covid variants, it was important to evaluate the damage from the spread of the virus carefully and correctly: “We don’t want this year’s Haj to be an epicentre for the spread of the disease in the Kingdom or the Muslim world.”

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has worked hard to improve the services provided in the Haj and Umrah sector, amid the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic.

The Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Services for Haj and Umrah performers, Eng. Hesham Abdulmonem Saeed, told the press conference that the safe Umrah model aims to protect people by managing the crowds going to the Grand Mosque through booked time slots and improving the services provided for pilgrims through the application of the most modern techniques to meet their personal needs.

He noted that the Eatmarna app developed by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) also verifies the health of permit applicants.

He said that the work to serve the pilgrims was a joint operation involving the public, private and voluntary sectors.

He said: “There is continued cooperation between the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques and all relevant authorities to help pilgrims and visitors perform Hajj and Umrah with ease.”

Last year’s Haj and the gradual return of Umrah in October was permitted after a safe model had been developed, focusing on modern technology and digitizing the procedures to provide pilgrims with the services they needed through different options provided by the ministry.

These tech-focused models included the Eatmarna application, which allowed users to request permits (praying permits, Umrah permits and Rawdah praying permits) in Makkah and Madinah’s mosques. More than 20 million people have benefitted from the app and more than 30,000 have used the services provided by Inaya (care) centres in Makkah and Madinah, established to serve pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah also provided safe transportation services by setting up four sites to transport worshippers and pilgrims to and from the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

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News Network
June 5,2021

Bengaluru, June 5: Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa today announced that the Karnataka will start its ‘unlock’ process by lifting restrictions only in those districts where the Covid-19 positivity rate drops below 5 per cent.

He was responding to a question on whether Karnataka will follow the footsteps of its neighbour Maharashtra that has announced a five-step unlock process. 

“In districts where the positivity rate drops below 5 per cent, I will discuss with officials and Cabinet colleagues on how we can provide concessions. We will decide this in 4-5 days closer to the end of the lockdown,” Yediyurappa told reporters. 

Karnataka’s positivity rate currently stands at 10.66 per cent, and this is gradually dropping. But according to the latest data from the State Covid-19 War Room, the positivity rate is above 10 per cent in 23 districts with Mysuru clocking the highest at 30.23 per cent, followed by Chikmagalur (24.20 per cent), Chitradurga (19.71 per cent) and Uttara Kannada (19.16 per cent). In Bengaluru Urban, it is 6.23 per cent. The rate remains below 5 per cent in two districts - Kalaburagi and Bidar. 

On conducting the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) Class 10 exams, Yediyurappa said it would depend on the Covid-19 situation. “The plan is to hold the (SSLC) exams in July. Let’s see what the Covid-19 situation will be like then. Everything depends on that,” he said. Acknowledging the criticism on the decision to scrap the Class 12 (PUC) exam and conducting the SSLC exam, Yediyurappa said the government would make sure no one is inconvenienced. 

Yediyurappa was speaking after symbolically launching the direct benefit transfer (DBT) of the Covid-19 relief payment of Rs 10 crore to four lakh construction workers. “In all, 25 lakh workers registered with the Karnataka Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board will receive Rs 749.55 crore at Rs 3,000 per head,” he said. 

He also launched the Seva Sindhu online facility for barbers, tailors, mechanics, rag pickers, potters, and others from the unorganised sector to apply for Rs 2,000 assistance under the government’s Covid-19 relief package. 

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News Network
June 15,2021

New Delhi, June 15: The Hajj Committee of India on Tuesday announced that all the applications for the pilgrimage this year stand cancelled as Saudi Arabia has stated that only a limited number of people residing in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Haj due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a circular, the committee said that the Ministry of Haj and Umrah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has issued a statement informing that due to coronavirus pandemic conditions it has decided to allow citizens and residents inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia only to attend Haj this year in limited numbers and international Haj has been cancelled.

"Hence it has been decided by the Haj Committee of India that all the applications for Haj 2021 stands cancelled," the circular signed by Haj Committee of India's Chief Executive Officer Maqsood Ahmed Khan read.

Last year also the government had decided that Muslims from India will not travel to Saudi Arabia for Haj 2020 after the Kingdom conveyed that pilgrims should not be sent in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

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News Network
June 6,2021

Thiruvananthapuram, June 6: As many as 93 retired top civil servants from across the country have signed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against a series of controversial decisions by Lakshadweep's administrator Praful Patel.

The letter from the Constitutional Conduct Group states that they are not affiliated to any political party but believe in neutrality and commitment to the Indian Constitution.

"We write to you today to register our deep concern over disturbing developments taking place in the pristine Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep in the name of 'development'."

Taking strong objections to a series of controversial drafts, the signatories have stated, "It is clear that each of these draft regulations is part of a larger agenda that is against the ethos and interests of the islands and islanders," the letter reads, stating that these decisions have been taken without consulting the people of Lakshadweep.

"Each of these measures smacks not of development but of alien and arbitrary policy making, in violation of established practices that respect the environment and society of Lakshadweep. Taken together, the actions and far-reaching proposals of the Administrator, without due consultation with the islanders, constitute an onslaught on the very fabric of Lakshadweep society, economy and landscape as if the islands were just a piece of real estate for tourists and tourism investors from the outside world", the letter further states.

The 93 signatories have sought for the controversial decisions to be withdrawn and a "full-time, people-sensitive, responsive Administrator be appointed, even as some of the draft orders are pending approval before Union Home Ministry.

These objections come days after several people, including those who belong to Lakshadweep took to social media with several online campaigns like #SaveLakshadweep. Elected representatives from Kerala - from the Congress as well as the Left - have been protesting the "unilateral" drafts of the administrator, after Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal raised concerns.

Delegations of parliamentarians from both the parties have been denied permit to enter Lakshadweep. In a sign of Kerala's anger against these developments, a unanimous resolution was passed in the state assembly against the 'reforms'.

On the controversial Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), the signatories allege, "Claiming that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past seventy years, the LDAR reflects a model of land and tourism development which includes resorts, hotels and beachfronts on the 'Maldives model' unmindful of the differences between the two island groups in size, population, number of islands and their spread." They said this constitutes a serious threat to the fragile ecosystem of Lakshadweep.

The group of former civil servants that includes retired IAS, IFS, and IPS officers as well as a former Lakshadweep administrator, claims that another draft, widely known as the Goonda Act, has generated fear that the real purpose of the regulation is to "smother dissent or protests against policies, actions of the Administrator or on any other issue", especially in a territory where, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, crime rates are very low compared to the rest of India.

"Other regulations proposed by the Administrator target food and dietary habits and religious injunctions of the local islanders, 96.5% of whom are Muslims. The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation will, if passed into law, effectively ban the killing of bovine animals and prohibit the consumption, storage, transport or sale of cattle meat in an island environment where there are inherent limits to livestock development. No such prohibitions apply to several states in the North-East and even the state of Kerala next door," the retired bureaucrats write, while raising objections to several other decisions.

Lakshadweep Collector K Asker Ali had held a press conference in the last week of May, backing administrator Praful Patel's draft orders as "much needed reforms for the development of Lakshadweep", hitting out at the online protests as "misleading propaganda".

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