Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Supreme Court declines to interfere with Haj Policy

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to interfere with the Haj Policy, 2010, insofar as it laid down the policy for allocation of Haj pilgrims quota only to the registered private tour operators (PTOs) to undertake the pilgrimage.

A Bench of Justices Mukundakam Sharma and Anil Dave set aside a judgment of the Kerala High Court that had quashed the government's Haj Policy for 2010 on the ground that it was arbitrary.

The Bench said that since the government in its policy decision had stated that new PTOs would be considered for the pilgrimage 2011 after evaluating their performance, it was not interfering with the said policy.

It also took into consideration the fact that only few days were left for making the preparations. It said it would not like to interfere with the list of 45,491 pilgrims prepared by the government and allocated to the 615 registered PTOs for this year.

If at this stage any other order was passed it would create confusion and open a Pandora's box, the Bench said. It, however, directed the Centre to consider the cases of all the respondent PTOs for 2011 and if they were found qualified they should be given preference as selected as PTO in addition to the already existing PTOs. The Bench disposed of the appeals leaving open the question of law.

Appearing for the Centre, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal said the Haj operations were undertaken on the basis of a bilateral agreement between the Government of India and Saudi Arabia and all arrangements put in place.

The first batch of pilgrims was to leave in October second week but the High Court had interfered with the policy, affecting the entire exercise. This year 1, 60,491 pilgrims were selected from India. Out of this, 45,491 pilgrims were allocated to registered PTOs who had the necessary experience. Mr. Venugopal sought quashing of the High Court judgment.

Senior counsel Dushyant Dave supported Mr. Venugopal, saying the High Court was not justified in setting aside the policy decision.

Senior counsel L. Nageswara Rao, appearing for the new PTOs said there was no justification to leave out new PTOs. They could also be considered along with the existing PTOs.

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