Terming the VIP quota for Haj pilgrims as a “bad religious practice”, the Supreme Court Tuesday said it would oversee the Haj policy for 2012.
“We will oversee the policy and keep the matter pending till then,” said Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai.
The judges were concerned over the difficulties faced by Haj pilgrims going to Makkah and Madina every year.
“We have personally come across the difficulties being faced by the people” going for Haj pilgrimage, said Justice Alam.
Taking exception to the government quota for the Haj pilgrims, the court said: “May be it has a political use but it is a bad religious practice. It is not really Haj.”
The court even questioned the justification for having government quota.
The judges said this while hearing the central government’s petition challenging the Oct 5 Bombay High Court judgment directing the government to give its remaining quota of 800 Haj pilgrims to private tour operators (PTOs) so that it may not go unutilided.
Haj pilgrims are divided into three categories.
In 2011, India was allocated a quota of 170,491 for Haj. Out of this 118,239 seats were allocated to Haj Committee and 45,491 to PTOs. The government retained a quota of 6,761 pilgrims.
Staying the impugned judgment of the high court and its directions, the apex court observed that “at least we (will) have a policy for 2012”.
The high court ruling came after some tour operators challenged the external affairs ministry’s policy which said that only those operators with office space of 250 square feet would be eligible for Haj quota.
The high court, while upholding the ministry’s policy, directed that the remaining 6,800 seats from the government quota be given to two operators and the balance to other PTOs irrespective of their office space.
The high court held that if this was not done, there was a likelihood that these 800 seats “would either go waste or lapse”.
The ministry’s policy modifying the eligibility criteria was aimed at discouraging the “fly by night operators engaged in unscrupulous practices causing inconveniences and hardships to the Hajis”.
The modified policy had also asked the PTOs to give a bank guarantee of Rs.100,000 for every 100 Hajis they were carrying for the pilgrimage.
The central government told the Supreme court that the high court could not assume the role of the executive and issue directions contrary to the Haj policy.
The government told the court that the high court directed the allocation of quota to PTOs even though it had upheld the Haj policy for 2011.
The case would be heard next in January.