The Supreme Court has given Chairman Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) two days to submit details as to why the national flag carrier was charging higher airfares for Hajj and Umrah than its competitors.
Since PIA had flouted the court’s previous orders, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Amir Hani Muslim and Justice Ghulam Rabbani, directed the chairman to submit a comprehensive report by August 18.
The petitioner, Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta, has challenged the high airfares charged by PIA last year for Hajj and Umrah.
He has accused the airlines’ officials of ‘playing with peoples’ religious feelings and extorting money from pilgrims.
Bhutta has contended that by increasing airfares, PIA is hindering people from performing religious obligations in contravention of Article 3 of the Constitution. He said the Supreme Court had issued PIA a notice last June but no reply has been submitted so far.
PIA normally charges Rs42,000 for Jeddah, the return fare for Hajj is about Rs120,000 and for Umrah it varies between Rs50,000 and Rs70,000.
Bhutta informed the bench that Afghanistan’s flag carrier Ariana’s return airfare for Umrah and Hajj is Rs43, 000, and Qatar Airways and Emirates also offer cheaper fares than PIA.
He has demanded in his petition that the chief of Military Intelligence with the help of the Federal Investigation Agency, the Intelligence Bureau and senior police officials should head the investigation. The court has adjourned the hearing till August 18.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2011.