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SC clears decks for Haj pilgrimage, sets aside Kerala HC order

Setting aside a Kerala High Court order, the Supreme Court today gave the green signal to the Centre to arrange for the Haj pilgrimage, expected to commence from the second week of October, of 45,419 pilgrims through private tour operators.
By HT Correspondent | PTI, New Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 21, 2010 07:12 PM IST

Setting aside a Kerala High Court order, the Supreme Court today gave the green signal to the Centre to arrange for the Haj pilgrimage, expected to commence from the second week of October, of 45,419 pilgrims through private tour operators.

A Bench of Justices Mukundakam Sharma and A R Dave permitted the Centre to go ahead with its plan after setting aside the High Court order which had quashed the Government's Haj Policy for 2010 on the ground that it was arbitrary.

The apex court, however, clarified that it was allowing the Centre to go ahead with the present policy since interference by it at this juncture "may cause confusion and open the Pandora's box," but was keeping the "question of law on the issue open."

The Bench passed the direction after senior counsel K K Venugopal appearing for the Union Government submitted that the Kerala High Court's order would seriously impede this year's Haj pilgrimage.

In its judgement on September 13, the High Court had quashed the Centre's Haj Policy 2010 on the ground that its June 1, 2010 circular restricting the eligibility of the tour operators to only those with two year's minimum registration as being arbitary.

The High Court had passed the order after some of the aggrieved tour operators contended that the policy eliminated several other tour operators and was in violation of the earlier orders passed by the apex court.

Senior counsel Nageswara Rao, appearing for the aggrieved operators, contended that though they had all the necessary eligibility and infrastructural capabilities, yet, the restrictions imposed by the Centre in the name of two years minimum registration eliminated them from the race.

The apex court said that though they might have a valid argument, yet if the High Court order was not set aside, it would affect the progress of the pilgrimage.

However, it recorded an undertaking from the Union Government that for the year 2011 it would consider and give preference to the aggrieved tour operators also if they are found to be qualified for carrying out the task.

Accordingly, it disposed of the petition, while keeping the question of law open on the Centre's Haj Policy 2010 vis-a-vis private tour operators.

Apart from the 45,491 pilgrims transported by private tour operators, over 1.50 lakh other pilgrims will be undertaking the Haj this yearunder the aegis of the Central Haj Committee.

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