The Bombay high court on Tuesday asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to state if the government can consider sending a letter to the authorities of Saudi Arabia, requesting them to increase the number of allotted quota for Haj pilgrims.
A division bench of justices D D Sinha and V K Tahilramani was hearing petitions filed by over 40 private tour operators, challenging the MEA decision to disallow those operators, who do not have minimum 250 square-feet office area.
"Is there no going back on the final list of tour operators sent by MEA to Saudi Arabia? Is the Indian government in a position to send a letter to Saudi Arabia requesting them allotment of more quota or send a fresh list of tour operators held eligible?" justice Sinha asked.
The bench further sought to know from the MEA if it was possible for Saudi Arabia to issue fresh 'Munazim' (registration) cards to the selected tour operators. The ministry has been directed to file an affidavit on Wednesday.
The court sought the information after it was informed by additional solicitor general Darius Khambata, appearing for MEA, that only 800 seats are unutilised as of Tuesday and that the 45 petitioners before the court, would require at least 3,000 seats.
"The tenor of the letters we have received from the Saudi government is such that they might cancel the entire quota allotted to India. However, since it is a matter of religion, MEA will consider requesting the Saudi authorities for more allotment," Khambata said.
Saudi Arabia has issued registration cards to 568 private tour operators, who were held eligible by the MEA to send Haj pilgrims.
Senior counsel Rafiq Dada, appearing for some of the petitioners, argued that it was possible to cancel the already issued registration cards and get fresh ones issued by the Saudi government.
"In 2009 also, there was a dispute and the cards were cancelled and fresh cards were issued on request by the Indian government. The MEA can send a letter of request to Saudi Arabia," Dada said.