A division bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended an order of the Lahore High Court single bench for distribution of a quota numbering 910 to new Haj group organisers (HGOs) through bidding.
The bench ordered the Religious Affairs Ministry to allocate the quota in a transparent manner per the Haj Policy 2013.
The bench comprising Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and Justice Mian Saqib Nisar passed the orders on a petition filed by three Haj group organisers, including Wassan Travel, City Travel and another while hearing the matter at Supreme Court Lahore Registry.
As proceedings started, Religious Affairs Secretary Shahid Khan and Additional Attorney General Abdul Haye Gilani appeared before the court.
The secretary said that Haj quota cases were pending in three high courts and the Haj operation was being affected as a result.
He said the SC should hear all the cases together and decide the matter at the earliest.
However, new HGO’s counsel, Muhammad Azhar Siddique, said Haj operations were not being affected as it was a case of a single quota of 910 berths.
The bench questioned under what authority the high court interfered in policy matters of the government.
Siddique said the Haj policy was in violation of Article 18 of the constitution and the ministry allotted the quota on basis of likes and dislikes which left no room for new tour operators.
He said that the Competition Commission of Pakistan had ruled that monopoly of existing HGOs could not come to an end until the allotment of quota to new HGOs.
The lawyer said the LHC ordered distribution of the quota, which was retrieved from blacklisted HGOs.
He said the order provided an opportunity of inexpensive Haj to public.
The petitioner’s counsel said the court did not have the jurisdiction to intervene in policy matters of the ministry, adding that court orders had affected business of various Haj tour operators, which was a violation of fundamental rights.
He said the LHC order for distribution of quota to new HGO through bidding was illegal and pled the bench set aside orders for bidding of available Haj quota.
To a query, the secretary said the available quota of 910 pilgrims should be allocated to existing HGOs instead of new ones.
The petitioner’s counsel said the 910 pilgrims’ quota should be allotted to only HGOs, as it was their share.
After hearing the arguments, the bench suspended operation of the LHC order and ordered distribution of as per the Haj Policy 2013 in a transparent manner.
The bench also sought a compliance report on the next date of hearing, August 6.