Saudi Prince orders release of 850 Indian prisoners, increases Haj Quota

PTI

New Delhi:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman  during a banquet hosted, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a banquet hosted, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in his country’s jails on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request as the two leaders held extensive talks here, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.

After the talks, it was also announced that India has decided to extend e-Visa facility to Saudi nationals.

In an important development, Saudi Arabia also joined the International Solar Alliance, a move welcomed by the prime minister, MEA officials said.

Both sides noted the potential of cooperation in the renewable energy sector, not only in investment but also in research and development, a joint statement issued after the talks said.

In another significant move, Saudi Arabia has also agreed to resolve issues relating to Indian workers who are currently stranded in the kingdom due to the closure of a foreign company, T S Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA, said.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday increased India’s Haj quota by about 25,000, the third hike in three years, taking the number of pilgrims from the country who can perform the pilgrimage to 2 lakh.

The decision was announced by the Ministry of External Affairs after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman here.

While T S Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA, said the implementation of the enhanced quota will depend on logistical and other things, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said it will be effective from this year.

The Saudi Crown Prince announced the increase in quota for Indian Haj pilgrims to 200,000 at the request of Prime Minister Modi, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

Naqvi hailed the decision and thanked the prime minister, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the crown prince, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

“This is the third hike in consecutive years. When the Modi government came to power in 2014, India’s Haj quota was 1,36,000, which has now been increased to 2 lakh. This will be the highest number of pilgrims going for Haj from India since independence,” Naqvi told PTI.

He said this was possible because of Modi’s “very cordial and friendly” relations with the Saudi leadership.

This year, 2,340 Muslim women from India will go for Haj without ‘Mehram’ or male companion. Also, India will be sending the second highest number of pilgrims for Haj after Indonesia, he said.

The government had last year allowed women to go on Haj without ‘Mehram’, which saw about 1,300 women going without any male companion. They had been exempted from the lottery system.

Last year, Saudi Arabia had increased India’s Haj quota by 5,000 to 1,75,025, while in 2017 it was increased by about 35,000.

The Haj subsidy provided by the government was removed last year in the light of a Supreme Court order of 2012.

Naqvi had earlier said that digitising Haj-related processes has ensured that the annual pilgrimage remained inexpensive despite the absence of subsidy and made the system “pro-pilgrim”.

(PTI)