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Just three months after increasing the airfare to and from Saudi Arabia to $1,350 for hajj pilgrims, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Ltd has proposed increasing it again by $171 quoting rise in fuel price.

The religious affairs ministry, which oversees the overall hajj management, and the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab) have opposed the proposal, saying many pilgrims had already deposited money to perform hajj in December following government announcement of the hajj package.

The ministry has informed Biman authorities of its opinion but Biman sticks to its position, said sources.

"When the airfare was fixed at $1,350, the fuel cost was $0.84 per litre. But now it is $1.25," a Biman official told The Daily Star yesterday seeking anonymity.

The time for depositing the airfare ends July 6.

The ministry announced the hajj package after reaching a consensus with the Biman authorities that the fare would be $1,350, Religious Affairs Secretary Mohammad Ataur Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.

"How can we now ask the pilgrims who have already deposited the fare for the additional amount?" he said.

"While fixing the airfare, Biman must have studied the trend in the international oil market and it should not raise the fare at the eleventh hour," another official of the ministry said.

The Haab has also demanded reducing the airfare.

"The airfares for hajj pilgrims from neighbouring countries are between $800 and $900," Haab Secretary General Eyaqub Sharafati told The Daily Star yesterday.

On March 16, the religious affairs ministry announced the Hajj Package 2008 for pilgrims to perform hajj through arrangements by the government and approved hajj agencies, increasing the airfare to and from Saudi Arabia to $1,350 from $1,250 for each pilgrim.

Two categories are there in the package--category-A requires depositing Tk 2,16,882 and category-B Tk 1,99,112.

The Haab, meanwhile, fixed the minimum package at Tk 2.20 lakh.

Houses for category-A ballotee pilgrims will be rented within 1,000 metres of the Kaba Sharif while houses for category-B pilgrims within 1,500 metres.

"We have already rented houses for 60 percent ballotee pilgrims and hope to rent houses for the rest within a few days," the religious affairs secretary said.

The number of total hajj pilgrims this year is estimated at 65,000, of whom 15,000 will perform hajj under government arrangement.

To prevent harassment of the pilgrims, the government this year made it mandatory for the private hajj agencies to sign agreements with the government before announcing any package.

Out of 324 hajj agencies, 225 have signed agreements with the government. They will also have to sign bilateral agreement with each pilgrim before receiving any amount from them.

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