SC dismisses plea by Haj tour operators on pilgrim charges
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to issue any directions to the Centre on a plea filed by the Federation of Haj Private Tour Operators (PTOs), challenging the validity of a condition imposed on Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) to charge the same rates as the Haj Committee of India on the additional quota of 10,000 seats for the pilgrims to Makkah and Madinah.
A vacation bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B R Gavai noted that most of the concerns of the tour operators have been addressed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, following a meeting on June 20 held after the top court asked the government to look into the matter.
On June 21, a circular, issued by the Ministry, stated, among others, that the HGOs may make adjustment within the overall package rate.
The court also granted liberty to the federation of PTOs to make a fresh plea in future if they feel not content with the Haj policy 2019-23.
Last week, the top court issued a notice to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, but asked the petitioners' organization to keep engaging with government officials, and not end efforts to resolve the matter.
Senior advocate Salman Khursheed and Suleiman M. Khan representing the Federation of Haj PTOs, had sought that the direction will be withdrawn as it is completely arbitrary and unreasonable.
"The condition imposed on HGOs, that is, to charge the additional quota seats allotted to them on applicable rates of Haj Committee of India is unreasonable. And, this condition has been imposed at a stage when no time is left for the HGOs to cope with the changed scenario," the petition said.
The federation termed the government's decision against the interest of Haj pilgrims along with the private tour operators and HGOs. Since 2002, the government has begun evolving a system under which private operators/travel agents would register as PTOs and then be allocated quotas from the overall number of pilgrims specified for HGOs/PTOs.
After registration as PTO, a private operator/travel agent would then get a fixed number of pilgrims for Haj. For this, the government frames a policy citing conditions required from the PTOs in the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Initially, 45,000 seats were allocated to HGOs, which was later increased to 50,000 seats. Subsequently, the Saudi government allocated 25,000 seats as additional quota for India and out of which 14,975 seats were allotted to Haj Committee of India and an additional quota of 10,000 seats was allocated to HGOs.
The overall quota for India after allocation of additional quota became 2 lakh seats out of which 1,40,000 seats were allocated to the HCOI and the total quota of HGOs after allocation of additional quota became 60,000 seats.IANS