Policy-making not open for judicial review, SC told


During hearing of the petitions filed by the Religious Affairs Ministry and a number of private tour operators challenging the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) June 6 verdict declaring the Haj Policy 2011 illegal, it was argued before the Supreme Court on Monday that policy-making was an administrative matter which rested with the ministry having exclusive authority, thus policies such as the Haj policy were not open for judicial review.
It was argued by Akram Sheikh, counsel for number of private Haj operators, before a four-member special bench of the SC comprising Justice Javed Iqbal, Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain. The counsels for the petitioners requested the court to set aside the LHC verdict which cancelled private Haj quota as it would seriously affect the intending pilgrims.
Dr Babar Awan, counsel for the Hajj Affairs Ministry argued that the private-public quota was incorporated in the light of policy set by the Saudi Arabian government. He said due to the LHC verdict, about 90,000 intending pilgrims would not be able to perform Haj in private quota since the last date for entertaining such pilgrims was set for July 15 by the Saudi government. He said five mutual agreements with the Saudi government had become annulled due to the verdict.
He said the LHC passed the judgement against the Haj Policy 2011 without hearing his clients, which was based on ill intention. Justice Shakirullah asked him whether he had any proof of what he was saying. Justice Javed Iqbal said it was very easy to level allegations, however, it was very difficult to prove the mala fide intention. Awan said the LHC in its judgement had directed for registering all Haj operating companies, but the government had no plan to register any new operator this year.
Sheikh contended that the Haj policy was under constant attacks through judicial verdicts. He said his clients had already transmitted Rs 26 billion to the Saudi government for accommodations, transportation and other facilities for the intending pilgrims. He said they had been condemned unheard by the LHC. He said they were existing operators and had no objection to new enrolment of operators, but their allotted quota was cancelled by the LHC. He said categorisation of allotment of quota to each operator was in force since 2005. He said allotment of the quota system was introduced per policy announced by the Saudi government, adding that the LHC order could have an adverse effect on the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia. He contended that the LHC verdict was based on a misreading of the Pakistani and Saudi Haj policies and an agreement between the two countries that prohibited enrolment of new tour operators for the year 2011.
Ahmer Bilal Sufi, another counsel for tour operators, submitted that the LHC verdict was in violation of the agreement signed by the government of Pakistan with the Saudi government. He said there were certain deadlines in the accord, which needed to be honoured.
Justice Javed Iqbal said it was impossible to frame a new Haj policy due to insufficient time. Sufi said the government had allotted quota to those, who had experience and under Article 18-C it was the government’s prerogative to allot the quota. The court adjourned hearing for today (Tuesday).