Amid widespread criticism of the high cost of hajj packages, the religious affairs ministry announced today that the cost of each of the two packages has been reduced by Tk 11,725. In an emergency circular, the ministry also said that the deadline for hajj registration has been extended till March 27.

The Saudi government reduced the cost of service for different countries by 413 Saudi Riyal (Tk 11,725), and the government has been able to reduce the cost, according to the circular. The cost of hajj package under government hajj management has now been set at Tk 6.71 lakh, which was earlier Tk 6.83 lakh. The cost of the package under private management has been reduced to Tk 6.60 lakh from Tk 6.72 lakh. The relief may feel negligible as the cost for performing hajj was increased by Tk 1.61 lakh from last year.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina provided 39,365 more houses, each built on two decimals of land, to landless and homeless families as part of the government's target of ensuring housing for all. She inaugurated the handover of the houses, under the 4th phase of Ashrayan-2 project to homeless families, through a virtual ceremony at her official residence Gono Bhaban.

On her behalf, public representatives -- ministers, MPs and Upazila chairman-- as well as government officials--Divisional Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners and Upaizla Nirbahi Officers -- who were present at different project sites handed over the house certificate and land documents to the beneficiaries of 493 upazilas across the country. Earlier, the premier provided 63,999 houses in the first phase, 53,330 in the second phase and 59,133 in the third phase under the Ashrayan-2, a project of the Prime Minister's Office. With the distribution of the houses, nine districts and 211 upazilas of the country are now free of homelessness.

Bangladesh and Bhutan signed an agreement on movement of traffic-in-transit and protocol at the Bhutanese capital Thimpu to further simplify bilateral trade between the two countries. Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and Bhutanese industry, commerce and employment minister Lyonpo Karma Dorji signed the agreement on behalf of their respective sides. Bangladesh is extending the use of its air, railways, river ports, land ports and seaports to landlocked Bhutan.

The commerce minister said that following the signing of the agreement, trade and commerce between the two countries would be simplified further while the trade relations would get a new height. Bangladesh would enjoy various charges and fees if products are imported and exported to and from Bhutan through Bangladesh. This agreement will make the PTA signed earlier between the two countries more effective. It will take effect once both countries ratify it.

Awami-League (AL) general secretary Obaidul Quader said they told the US ambassador it is not possible to bring back the caretaker government while meeting him over lunch at his residence in Dhaka's diplomatic quarter this week. A delegation of the ruling party called on Amd. Peter Haas against the backdrop of the release of the latest country report on human rights, an annual exercise of the State Department (equivalent to foreign ministry).

Quader, also road transport and bridges minister, came up with the disclosure while addressing an event at Dhaka University shortly after attending the meeting. He called upon the opposition BNP leaders to stop thinking about the restoration of the caretaker government. The annual HR report said the 2018 election was not considered free and fair, due to "reported irregularities, including ballot box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters." The ruling party vehemently refuted the findings of the report.

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