ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Religious Affairs faces a daunting task of utilising 40 per cent Hajj quota among private tour operators within a month as ordered by the apex court.
The top court on Tuesday maintained its earlier order pertaining to the distribution of Hajj quota to new tour operators in the current season.
The five-judge larger bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmad, took up Intra Court Appeals (ICAs) against the impugned judgment.
Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood appeared on behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, while Abid Zubairi represented Hajj Organisation Association of Pakistan (HOAP) and Azhar Siddique argued on behalf of the new Hajj tour operators.
The bench, however, maintained its earlier order and asked the federal government to distribute 40 per cent quota to all private tour operators, also known as Hajj Group Organisers (HGOs).
Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 order, the government had allocated 40 per cent Hajj quota to only 742 HGOs, disregarding the top court’s order to consider the new 2,033 HGOs in the 40 per cent quota as well in the current season. It is said that the current allocation of 40 per cent quota to HGOs will not have any effect on the government’s Hajj system.
Earlier, the three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, on May 17 had directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs to reframe the policy for distribution of 40 per cent quota to HGOs.
Following the recommendations of the Competition Commission of Pakistan, the court urged the ministry to set up a panel for formulating criteria for HGOs, including third-party evaluations.
“The policy must be reviewed or reframed in accordance with the foregoing and a compliance report be submitted within 30 days of receiving this order,” the order stated.
The court issued an 18-page verdict in a contempt case against the Ministry of Religious Affairs for not allocating quotas to the new HGOs in view of its August 27, 2013 decision.
In the verdict, Justice Maqbool Baqir said that monopolising private Hajj arrangements by members of HOAP was also depriving intending pilgrims of better choices.
Creating such monopolies was in violation of Clause (c) of Article 18 of the Constitution and defeats the provisions of Clause (b) of Article 18 of the Constitution, which provided for regulating trade, commerce and industry in the interest of free competition, the verdict revealed.
The verdict stated that non-quota holders HGOs were being denied quotas on the pretext that the government had no surplus quota.
“The quota allocated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan is for the people of Pakistan and not for any particular group, segment or association. The quota for Pakistan is bifurcated by the government of Pakistan into two segments, one under the Government Hajj Scheme and the other for Private Hajj Scheme.”
Later, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and private tour operators moved ICAs against the court’s order. The ministry requested the Supreme Court to set aside the contempt order and allow the ministry to devise fresh formula or criteria in a transparent manner for the allocation of Hajj quota to private sector as deemed appropriate on competitive basis and in a transparent manner after Hajj 2017 as per its policy. The new formula or criteria will be applicable both on existing and newly enrolled Hajj tour operators equally for Hajj 2018.
The government expressed apprehension that any action in haste by the ministry may not only jeopardise the interest of the pilgrims but would also earn a bad name for the government. It is also submitted that the policymaking rests with the executive whereas judiciary has the power of judicial review of the executive policy, adding that the government did not allocate Hajj quota in favour of Hajj Organisation Association of Pakistan rather it is allocated in the name of individual company.