Applications under government hajj scheme will be received by the 14 designated banks from February 25 to March 6. According to hajj policy released by the Ministry of Religious Affairs here on Tuesday, 184,210 Pakistani pilgrims will perform hajj this year. The scheme will be implemented through government and private hajj group organizers with the ratio of 60:40. Hajj dues under the government scheme will be Rs 436,975 for Northern region, which includes Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Sialkot, Faisalabad Multan and Rahim Yar Khan, while Rs 426,975 will be received for Southern region, which includes Karachi, Quetta and Sukkur. The charges are exclusive of the cost for qurbani (animal sacrifice) services, which can be optionally availed for another Rs 19,451.The aspiring pilgrims will be selected under the government scheme through a computerised ballot on March 8. This season, 10,000 seats will be reserved for senior citizens above the age of 80 and another 10,000 seats will be reserved for those individuals who had been unsuccessful in the ballot for the last three years. Under the government scheme, 1.5 per cent of the total seats will be reserved for hardship cases.According to the policy, all pilgrims will be provided five litres of Aab-i-Zamzam at no additional charge. Speaking at a ceremony here on Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan called out those who criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government for withdrawing the subsidy on hajj for this year. “These people ask why the government did not provide a subsidy or make performing the ritual more affordable. If you hadn’t left this country in this condition [and] if we didn’t have so many debts, then we would certainly send pilgrims [to hajj] for free,” he said, addressing his critics from the previous governments.Published in Daily Times, February 13th 2019.