KARACHI: It is not possible for the populace to afford expensive and luxurious Hajj packages introduced and launched by private Hajj group organisers (HGO) for the elite class, observed the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Friday.
"The government Hajj scheme is introduced to cater to the needs of the public at large so that they may perform the revered and sacred obligation of Hajj with the benefit of uniformed economy and low-cost packages across the board, including non-privileged classes," observed the single bench, headed by Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar.
"Even the lowermost or minimum package of the HGOs has no match or comparison with the government Hajj package," the judge ruled while dismissing the HGOs' plea against curtailment of their quota to 40% from 50% by the religious affairs ministry under the Hajj Policy, 2017.
The order was earlier reserved on a lawsuit instituted by the Hajj Organisers Association of Pakistan, challenging the reduction in the private Hajj organisers' quota by 10%.
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Their lawyer, Abid Zuberi, argued that under a memorandum of understanding signed by the religious affairs ministry with HGOs, each HGO had to sign a service provider's agreement with certain mandatory conditions. Under the agreement, the service provider will offer up to three packages to the prospective pilgrims and details of additional facilities and charges against each facility, the lawyer explained. In case of any violation, 10% quota will be cancelled for the next year.
Advocate Zuberi argued that due to certain mandatory conditions, it was not possible for the HGOs to match their packages with the government Hajj package.
The Hajj Policy and Plan, 2017 aims to develop efficient Hajj arrangements through provisions of service and logistic during Hujjaj stay at Makkah and Madina.
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Zuberi argued that Article 18 of the Constitution protects the rights of citizens to engage in any profession, occupation, trade or business.
The deputy attorney-general said 338,696 applications from intending pilgrims were received this year, which showed a manifold increase from the previous year. In 2016, the 50% quota of HGOs stood at 71,368 Hujjaj, he informed.
However, after restoration of the 20% quota by Saudi Arabia, the private tour operators' present 40% quota is equivalent to 71,684, which is more than their previous quota of 50%, he argued.
Meanwhile, the deputy attorney-general said the government retained 60% quota, which is equivalent to 107,556 Hujjaj, keeping in view the latest development and expediencies. Opposing the HGOs plea, he argued it was clear from the Supreme Court judgment that government policy cannot be struck down unless it is malafide or arbitrary.
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Justice Mazhar observed it was obvious and evident, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the Hajj quota was granted to Pakistan and not to any individual or HGOs, so that they may dictate their terms to the government within the realm of policy making.
"So in my view, the plaintiffs cannot claim any vested rights that their 50% quota cannot be reduced nor any case of promissory estoppel is made out on the basis of the MoU," he ruled.
"The judicial precedents cited in this regard are distinguishable in the above backdrop and circumstances," the judge noted while dismissing the plea.
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