Delhi HC stays suspension of registration certificates, quota of Haj Group Organisers

Haj for Muslims is not merely a holiday but a medium of practising their religion and faith which is a fundamental right, the Delhi High Court said, staying the suspension of registration certificates and quota of several Haj Group Organisers.

The registration and quota of such Haj Group Organisers (HGOs), which act as tour operators for pilgrims, was kept in abeyance by the Centre last month after they were found to be ineligible on various grounds, including willful misrepresentation of facts based on which they were registered as HGOs in the first place.

A vacation bench of Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, while dealing with petitions by over 13 such HGOs, said it was concerned with the pilgrims who intend to travel on Haj and have paid in advance to the petitioners for the five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby Holy places in Saudi Arabia.

The bench asked the Centre to ensure that the pilgrims do not suffer because of the alleged default of the tour operators and are able to undertake travel without any obstruction.

Justice Singh observed that the Haj pilgrimage and its ceremonies fell within the ambit of a religious practice, which is protected by the Constitution of India, and the court was the protector of that right.

“Accordingly, to ensure that the pilgrims are not obstructed from completing their journey and undertake Haj, the comments in the consolidated list of allocation of Haj Quota for HAJ-2023 issued on 25th May 2023 by the respondent (Centre) which reads as ‘Registration Certificate & Quota Kept in abeyance till finalization of proceedings in complaint related matter’ is stayed,” the court said in its orders passed on Wednesday.

The bench clarified that the authorities may proceed with the investigation in pursuance of the show-cause notice issued to the petitioners for their alleged defaults.

The Centre told the court that it has the right to suspend or cancel the registration of HGOs in case of non-compliance with any of the terms and conditions, and it was not willing to take the risk of placing the fate of pilgrims in the hands of these non-compliant HGOs.

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It was also said that allowing the petitioners to take the pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the revelation of serious violations of the law would not be in the spirit of the bilateral agreement between the two countries, which calls for the registration of only compliant and verified HGOs.

The court observed that although restrictions and conditions to the issuance of the registration certificate and quota allocation to the petitioner could be imposed, the same “should not be held against the pilgrims” who registered to undertake the pilgrimage with such entities in good faith.

“This court is of the view that such an action would defeat the purpose of the current Haj Policy and is in derogation of Article 25 of the Constitution of India,” it stated, noting that for 2023, 1,75,025 pilgrims 1,40,000 for Haj Committee of India and 35,025 for HGOs have been allocated by Saudi Arabia to India.

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