SC refuses to entertain plea against HC order staying suspension of registration of Haj Group Organisers

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain an appeal filed by the Centre challenging the order of the Delhi High Court staying the suspension of registration certificates and quota of several Haj Group Organisers.

A vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and M M Sundresh said the matter is coming up before the high court on July 7 and all the issues can be looked into by it.

Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Centre, submitted that if the pilgrims are booked with the delinquent Haj Group Organisers (HGO), they will face a lot of difficulty.

“If these HGOs are not up to the mark, the pilgrims will face difficulties in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Haj for Muslims is not merely a holiday but a medium of practising their religion and faith which is a fundamental right, the high court had said while staying the suspension of registration certificates and quota of several HGOs.

The registration and quota of such 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.

The high court on June 7, 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 high court had asked the Centre to ensure that the pilgrims do not suffer because of the alleged default of tour operators and are able to undertake travel without any obstruction.

It had observed that the Haj pilgrimage and its ceremonies fell within the ambit of a religious practice, which is protected by the Constitution, 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 finalisation of proceedings in complaint related matter’ is stayed,” the high court had said.

The bench had 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 had 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.

It was also said that allowing the petitioners to take the pilgrims to 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.

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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 had stated, noting that for 2023, 1,75,025 pilgrims, including 35,025 for HGOs have been allocated by Saudi Arabia to India.

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