Senators in the upper house of parliament expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s initiative to provide exact death toll of Pakistani pilgrims and those gone missing even after the 11th day of the Mina stampede tragedy.
Minister of State for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Aminul Hasnat informed the house on Monday that the death toll of pilgrims has reached 76.
So far 306 pilgrims have been found and 60 are still reportedly missing, he said while presenting a report on the Mina incident in the 120th session of the Senate.
Appearing for the first time in public after the tragedy, the minister said that the Saudi government has confirmed the death of 29 pilgrims. Of them 28 have been buried in Makkah.
He added that the body of Asad Murtaza Gillani, former minister for religious affairs and nephew of ex-premier Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, has reached Pakistan for burial in his hometown Multan.
Hasnat said that currently seven pilgrims are under treatment in various hospitals in Saudi Arabia whereas 40 have been discharged.
He told the house: “The only source of information for Ministry of Religious Affairs on the incident is Saudi authorities.”
All the pilgrims are provided with a wristband and name tags to wear around their necks containing all the important details about them and emergency phone numbers, the minister said, adding, “But, unfortunately majority of Pakistani pilgrims do not bother to wear them, which creates hurdles in the identification process during such tragic incidents.”
He informed senators that soon after the incident personnel of Pakistani Hajj Mission participated in rescue efforts but later they were denied access to the spot when Saudi Army and law enforcing agencies took over the charge of the area.
Senator Usman Kakar strongly criticised the Pakistani government over hiding and delaying in sharing the facts, saying it is the failure of the government that even after 11 days it is unable to trace its missing pilgrims.
While lamenting the government over not sharing the report on the tragic incident, Senator Mohsin Aziz also raised voice over mishandling of the bodies by the Saudi authorities.
Senator Nauman Wazir expressed concern over the absence of a system to verify pilgrims through fingerprints by the National Database Regulatory Authority (Nadra) in Saudi Arabia.
While responding to all the criticism the minister told the Senate that efforts will be made to address all the complaints lodged by the senators.
Questions over updating website
“Four days ago I confirmed to the officials of Ministry of Religious Affairs regarding the death of my younger brother named Syed Ayaz Azhar but it has not yet updated its list on the website and his name is still in the missing pilgrims’ list,” Syed Shahzad Azhar told The Express Tribune.
It shows that there could be many others who are dead but are in the list of missing or vice versa, he added.
‘It is the 11th day that I am still clueless about the whereabouts of my mother, Yasmeen Bibi,” Azhar said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2015.