The Union ministry of external affairs on Friday clarified before the Bombay high court that the list of Haj pilgrims had already been forwarded to the authorities in Saudi Arabia on September 18. This was prior to the court's order on September 19, which had restrained the government from doing so.
The court was hearing petitions challenging the ministry's notification requiring Haj tour operators to have an office with a carpet area of at least 250 sq feet. The court, on Monday, restrained the ministry from implementing the policy till September 23, when it will hear the case again.
Additional solicitor general Darius Khambatta told the court that the Saudi government had threatened to cancel the entire quota because the Centre had sent the list late. He also urged the court not to pass any orders that might affect the government's policy since the entire Haj quota and hence the pilgrimages of over 45,000 pilgrims might be in jeopardy.
A division bench of justice PB Majmudar and justice RM Sawant had on Monday told the ministry that any policy affecting the people should be clear, unambiguous and transparent.
Rashind Bakhla, a Haj tour operator, and the All India Haj Umrah Tour Organisers (AIHUTOA) had moved the high court last week contesting the clause in the ministry's notification in July that rendered nearly 170 Haj tour operators in the country unfit to operate.
"Policies cannot be changed overnight. Matters of this kind - pertaining to pilgrimage - should be transparent. What does 250 sq feet carpet area have to do with pilgrimage?" the court had observed earlier.
An affidavit filed by AR Ghanashyam, joint secretary (Gulf and Haj), MEA, said that the policy was framed following complaints regarding unauthorised sale of quotas by one private tour operator (PTO) to another and also to prevent fly-by-night operators who indulge in unscrupulous practices leaving pilgrims in the lurch.
Ghanashyam stated that, due to such practices, pilgrims were subjected to sub-standard accommodation and food, misplaced baggage and lack of proper transportation.
The affidavit informed that following 123 complaints the government was forced to blacklist 13 such PTOs.
The court was informed that the first batch of pilgrims was scheduled to leave for their pilgrimage on September 29.