Indians undertaking Haj from this year would require normal passports as special documents issued for the annual pilgrimage will no longer be valid.
Saudi Arabia has informed India that from this year, visas for Haj pilgrims will be issued only on normal "international" passports and not on the Haj pilgrim "passes" as has been the practice till last year.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has communicated this to the Haj Committee of India which conducts the pilgrimage undertaken by over a lakh Indian devotees every year.
"Authorities concerned in Saudi Arabia have informed that with effect from the next year 1430 Hijri (2009), the arrival of Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia will be through international passports only and therefore, from next year, Haj visas will not be issued on Haj pilgrim passes as it has been the practice in the previous years," said the letter of Saudi Embassy sent to MEA in November last year.
On the basis of the communication from the Saudi Embassy, the MEA has asked the Haj Committee of India to keep this requirement in view while working out the action plans for Haj 2009 onwards.
It asked the Haj Committee to inform Haj Committees of states about it.
The Haj Committee wants postponement of the decision by up to two years as it feels that many devotees, particularly in rural areas, would be unable to undertake the pilgrimage because they would not be possessing passports.
The Haj Committee held two meetings with State Committees in the recent past and decided to approach the central government as also the Saudi government with a request for deferring the decision.
A delegation of the Committee, along with a senior official of the MEA, would travel to Riyadh on February 8 to appeal for postponement.
"If this decision is implemented now, many people, especially those living in villages, will not be able to undertake Haj because they don't have passports. Making passport takes some time and that is why we want a postponement of the decision," the Haj Committee CEO Mohammed Owais told PTI.
In the meanwhile, he said anyone planning to go for Haj should be mentally prepared that he or she will require a passport as per the latest Saudi order.