The comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has come down heavily on the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for sending Haj goodwill delegations to Saudi Arabia every year at huge public cost.
The government spent Rs 2.39 crore on the Haj (II) delegation in 2006. “The ministry’s approval for large Haj goodwill delegations for as long as 18-20 days, which is inconsistent with the role of such delegations, renders it extravagant. No criteria is established for nomination of delegation members,” the report (CAG, 2008) said. Incidentally, there were two sets of Haj pilgrimages in 2006.
The Indian Consul General in Jeddah and the leader of one such delegation had, on three occasions, recommended limiting the delegation to 2-3, 6-8 and 15 members, respectively. Pakistan sends 5-10 members.
The formal sanction was for 27 members. But the MEA separately advised the Indian Consulate General to arrange for accommodation and transport for official members and their companions. That swelled the number to 54. The air fare for companions was, however, borne by the members themselves. There is no need for large delegations as only the leader and 2-3 members have any official role.
In response to an audit query, the MEA replied that delegation size was decided after taking all aspects into consideration — representation from all segments of the community and country.
The CAG has recommended that the MEA define the role of the delegation and reduce its size. Mohammed Owais, CEO, Haj Council of India, said: “The delegation is sent by the government. I have no comments.” The MEA did not respond to an emailed questionnaire.