ISLAMABAD (News Desk): As inflation has hit every activity, performing Haj has also become costlier this year, but the government claims that it has curtailed Haj expenses to the maximum extent. The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved Haj Policy 2020 under which Haj under government scheme will cost Rs490,000 to each pilgrim with 7.35 per cent increase as compared to the cost of Haj in 2019. However, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said at a press conference that the government had curtailed Haj expenses to the maximum possible extent otherwise it could have cost Rs540,000 to each pilgrim. “Devaluation of rupee, inflation and increased air fares and accommodation expenses in Saudi Arabia are the main factors behind the slight increase in the cost of Haj,” he added. He said this year every pilgrim from any country had to pay additional 410 Riyals to the Saudi government because 300 Riyals would be charged at the time of issuance of visa and 110 Riyal as health insurance. The minister said this year 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims would perform Haj, 60pc of them under the government quota and 40pc under private tour operators’ quota. Under the Haj Policy 2020, Rs490,000 (with Qurbani), has been fixed for Haj for individuals from the north side of the country and Rs480,000 for the south. Last year Rs456,426 (with Qurbani) were charged for north and Rs436,975 (with Qurbani) for pilgrims from the south side. The minister claimed that this year pilgrims would be given more facilities and all arrangements had been made to provide them ease during Haj. The office-bearers of Haj Training Council (HTC) and people here on Wednesday demanded of the government not to increase the Haj expenditures and instead make it affordable for the people from middle class. In a chat with this correspondent, the HTC members said that Haj expenditures had registered a significant increase during the last few years. They said that the government cited rising exchange rate and airfare for this, but all that had happened due to its failure to arrest the economic decline. HTC central chairman Mohammd Hayat said that the government should monitor the private Haj operators who had been violating rules to make money through the Haj scheme. “All the people should go for performing Haj through the government scheme,” he said. ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD Munawar Shah, HTC general secretary, said that the qurbani (sacrifice) charges had also been increased, demanding of the government to facilitate the people to perform Haj. TWO ABDUCTEES RECOVERED: Police recovered two abducted persons hailing from Punjab province and their vehicle here on Wednesday. DSP Khanzada Khan told mediapersons that Mohammad Shafiq and Mohammad Ikram of Faisalabad had come with Qasiar Khan of Maneri Payyan village in a rented van (TSL-213). They said that as they reached Qaisar’s home he took them hostage and started calling their families to pay Rs400,000 ransom for their release. The families of the hostages informed the Punjab police and gave them the mobile number from which the accused had made the call. The DSP said that they recovered the two hostages along with the vehicle. He said that the accused had been arrested and a case registered against him in the city police station. CHARAS SEIZED: The police arrested three alleged smugglers and recovered over three kilogramme of charas here on Wednesday. Topi tehsil DSP Iftikhar Ali said that during routine checking the police arrested an Afghan refugee, identified as Farooq Khan, and recovered over one kilogrammes of charas from him. Similarly, the police claimed to have arrested Usman Khan of Kohat and recovered 1.3 kilogrammes of charas that he wanted to smuggle to Islamabad via Topi. Also in the day, the police nabbed one Niaz Ali in a raid in Gandaf village and allegedly recovered 990 grams of charas from him. Separate cases have been registered against them.