Thousands of Shia pilgrims from across the country, bound for the shrine of Imam Reza in Iran, have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after allegedly being duped by Oman Air of millions of rupees in disputed transactions.
The pilgrims have accused Oman Air, the country's state-owned airline, of going back on its commitment after selling tickets at discounted prices over Jan 24, 25 and 26 to approximately five thousand Indian nationals.
In a letter written to the Prime Minister, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Embassy of Oman in New Delhi on Feb 3 , the aggrieved passengers claim they bought thousands of return tickets from Delhi to Tehran (Delhi-Tehran-Delhi) under Rs 7,000 each, during the three days in January. The date of bookings are from February right through the last week of July.
Even after getting confirmations from the Oman Air's office at the time of booking, the Indian pilgrims were sent a circular on Jan 28 from Oman Air's Sales Officer Nitesh Kumar, who informed them that the discounted fares advertised on the website over the three days were nothing but a "technical glitch."
"On Jan 31, a new circular was issued by Oman Air asking passengers to pay the extra amount or cancel the tickets before Feb 4 or it would be automatically cancelled by Oman Air," the letter states.
Talking to National Herald, Maulana Syed Jalal Naqvi, a secretary at Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind, said that the distressed passengers want Oman Air to honour its commitment of flying the Indian pilgrims at the prices at which the bookings were made.
"The Airline has hurt our religious sentiments. The shrine of Imam Reza, who is our eight imam, is considered to be a very holy place," said Naqvi.
He informs NH that approximately 5,000 Shias from different parts of the country have made bookings with Oman Air. "There is a batch of 250 pilgrims from Lucknow, another 500 from Kashmir, several hundred from Hyderabad. Bookings have been made from across the country and transactions worth lakhs were made on the three days," he claims.
He says that the passengers were themselves surprised to learn about the cheap Delhi-Tehran return fare, which otherwise costs around Rs 30,000 for a return trip.
"We checked with them if the Rs 7,000 fare was for real. They confirmed it to us, following which members of our community made the bookings. We have hundreds of call recordings to prove our claim," says Naqvi.
After the airline doubled down on its position of the low fares advertised being a technical glitch, the pilgrims first held a protest at Oman Air's office in New Delhi on Feb 6, two days before approaching the court on Feb 8.
"The Patiala House court ordered Oman Air to prove that it was in fact a technical glitch," tells Naqvi. He further informs that the airline had sent them a letter in which it has reiterated its stand.
The Ministry of External Affairs has been asked for a comment. The story will be updated as soon as a response is in.
India is home to around five crore Shia Muslims,many concentrated in pockets in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kashmir, says Naqvi.