LHC orders Shah to allocate Hajj quota or face the music
03 October, 2012
LAHORE: Lahore High Court Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has ordered Minister of Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah to allot quota of 190 Hajj pilgrims to four eligible Hajj Tour Operators (HTOs) within 24 hours, warning otherwise the law will take its course.
The chief justice directed the minister to inform the court about the details of quota of another 350 pilgrims that had been allotted against the orders of the court. Khursheed Shah personally appeared before the court on Tuesday, as chief justice had issued him contempt of court notice for not allotting the quota on the directions of the court and using delaying tactics to lapse the deadline set for the purpose. Federal ministers Qamar Zaman Kaira, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich and MNA Nawabzada Ghazanfar Gill accompanied Shah to the court along with many PPP activists.
To the question by the chief justice as to why he had not implemented the court orders of allotting quota to new tour operators, Shah replied that his ministry wanted to challenge the LHC order in the Supreme Court. But the chief justice told him that time to challenge the order had lapsed. Shah told the court he was committed to giving quota purely on merit. He said that being a politician he remained under pressure, as everyone wanted to get Hajj quota.
The minister said that on the orders of the Supreme Court, and Balochistan and Sindh high courts, the ministry had allotted quota to the new operators. Out of the total 540, quota of 190 remains to be allocated, he said. Chief Justice Bandial remarked that the court had strengthened the hands of the Religious Affairs Ministry, and it wanted implementation of the Hajj Policy 2012 in letter and spirit, but the incompetent officials of the ministry were not ensuring merit.
He observed that the court wanted to strengthen civil institutions and did not want to issue an order, which would create an impression that the court was getting its injunctions implemented forcefully. The chief justice further remarked that on the order of the LHC around Rs 71 million had been collected in income tax, and many defaulter tour operators had deposited millions of rupees.
Petitioner's counsel Muhammad Azhar Siddique said the minister was talking about abiding by the orders of many other courts but did not implement those given by the LHC. He alleged that the minister was not willing to allot the quota on the orders of the LHC because of his mala fide intentions. On this the chief justice noted that the courts wanted to get their decisions implemented and if they were not implemented, the law would take its course.
Khursheed Shah told the court that the remaining quota of 190 pilgrims would be allotted to 19 operators. The chief justice directed the ministry to allot quota to only four HTOs which have deposited Rs 5 lakh security and had adequate experience in the field. The minister sought time of three days for allocation of quota, but the petitioners' counsel pointed out that Saudi Arabia would not issue Hajj visas after October 4 and resultantly the court orders would not be implemented.
On this the chief justice ordered the minister to allot quota within the next 24 hours and submit a report to the court about it. A private Hajj tour operator had filed the petition, submitting that the LHC on June 6 had ordered allocation of Hajj quota to new tour operators. The petitioner's counsel submitted that the court had directed the ministry to award quota of 5,000 pilgrims to newly registered tour operators, but the ministry, in connivance with old tour operators, had decided not to do so. He had sought contempt of court proceedings against the religious affairs minister and the ministry's secretary.