SC reinstates Hajj policy, annuls LHC verdict

ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the Hajj Policy 2014 annulling the earlier decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in this regard.

The two-member bench comprising Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and Justice Dost Muhammad Khosa resumed hearing of the set of appeals moved by the federal government as well as the Haj Organisers Association of Pakistan (HOAP). On July 15, the high court declared the Hajj Policy 2014 illegal to the extent of grant of quota of 15,000 pilgrims to the private Haj tour operators.

During the proceedings, Deputy Attorney General Attiq Shah informed the court that the quota for Pakistani Hajjis in 2013 was 179,210. Due to the Haram Shareef's expansion project, the Saudi government had decreased the pilgrim quota for Pakistan by 20 per cent, copmelling the government to reduce the quota for private tour operators by 15,000. This year, the government allotted extra quota of 15,000 pilgrims to tour operators according to the agreement, he said.

The chief justice asked that whether the quota was allotted to the association members and also enquired about the procedure to become a member of the association. Zulifqar Naqvi, counsel for a tour operator, told the court that those, who were issued quota by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, became members of the association. The Ministry of Religious Affairs secretary informed the court that the ministry issued quota to the registered tour operators.

Azhar Sadiq, counsel for the Private Tour Operators, told the court that the Hajj Policy 2014 was mala fide. On this, the chief justice remarked that it was incorrect to state government's Hajj policy mala fide in the court room as the court would review guidelines of the LHC verdict. Attiq Shah said that the Hajj operation would start from mid August and the high court verdict had paralyzed the whole process.

The chief justice asked that the court had directed the ministry six weeks before to publish Hajj Policy 2014 on its website. Attiq Shah said that court orders were implemented and the federal government had also signed an agreement with the Saudi government. According to the Hajj Policy 2014, there was an equal quota for the government and private Hajj operators. The private operators were to be provided an additional quota of 15,000 Hajjis due to last year's decrease, which was declared illegal by the LHC.

The apex court annulled the high court decision and allowed the additional quota for private tour operators. The issue had cropped up when the Ministry of Religious Affairs had devised the policy under which a Haj quota of 179,210 for Haj 2013 was allocated by the Saudi Ministry of Haj, of which 50 per cent had to be allocated to the Haj scheme and 50 per cent to the private scheme i.e., Haj Group Organisers (HGO) on the concept of public-private partnership.

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