Supreme Court reinstates Haj Policy 2014, annuls LHC decision

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday has reinstated the Haj Policy 2014 annulling the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) decision in this regard. The SC has also accepted the federal government’s appeal for hearing. A two-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk and Justice Dost Mohammad Khan were to hear a set of appeals moved by the federal government as well as the Haj Organisers Association of Pakistan (HOAP).

Filed by SCBA President Kamran Murtaza, the HOAP’s application had challenged the July 15 order of the LHC in which the Haj Policy 2014 had been declared to be illegal to the extent of grant of quota of 15,000 pilgrims to private Haj tour operators.

A similar Haj controversy had come up before the Supreme Court in 2013 when on Oct 9, the apex court had emphasised the need of framing the Haj policy well in time in a fair and just manner that should inspire confidence and evokes minimum criticism. The court had held that the Haj policy for the next year (2014) should be announced at the earliest after the conclusion of Haj.

The issue had cropped up when the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had devised the policy under which a Haj quota of 179,210 for Haj 2013 was allocated by the Ministry of Haj, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 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.

In June 2013 when all arrangements had been made by the government as well as private Haj organisers for Haj 2013, the government of Saudi Arabia had reduced the quota by 20 per cent for each country in view of the construction work in Haram. Thus the quota for Pakistan had reduced to 143,368 from 179,210.

As a consequence the religious affairs ministry had also reduced the quota of private Haj as 60 per cent for the government Haj sponsored where 40 per cent for the private Haj scheme.

This had raised hue and cry forcing the prime minister to constitute a high-powered ministerial committee for the negotiation with the HOAP.

After due consultation and deliberation it had been decided that the Haj quota for 2013 would be utilised as 60:40 for the Haj 2013, but for the Haj 2014 an additional quota of 15,000 pilgrims would be given to the private Haj scheme in addition to their prescribed quota.

Consequently, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been executed between the HOAP and the ministry.

Later, the government had formulated the Haj Policy 2014 keeping in view the Supreme Court guidelines and also ensuring 15,000 pilgrims to the private scheme as per the MoU.

But, the LHC in its July 15 judgment held that the grant of quota of 15,000 pilgrims to the private Haj tour operators was without lawful authority and against the law. Therefore, according to the judgment, the government in the first instance would utilise the quota and if the respondent government is unable to perform its duty due to any reason this quota would be offered to all the registered tour operators of the ministry of religious affairs.

Now the petitioners had pleaded before the Supreme Court that the LHC had no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the matter since no infringement of the human rights guaranteed under the constitution was agitated before the high court.