New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government to frame a five-year policy for regulating the Haj pilgrimage to replace the current annual plan which it termed as "ad-hoc and unsatisfactory".
The apex court also held the government`s policy allowing repeaters to accompany lady and elderly pilgrims as `mehrams` (unmarriageable kin), but without availing subsidy, as "legal, constitutional, fair and reasonable".
"We accept the suggestion of the Amicus and hold that the practice of framing Haj Policy on an annual basis is quite ad-hoc and unsatisfactory and must be replaced by a policy framework made for a period of five years. We, accordingly, direct that the Haj Policy that is to be framed this year would be for a period of five years and would be called the Haj Policy 2013 ? 2017," the court said.
A bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai directed that "the Haj Policy should pay attention to special needs of the lady pilgrims and it should be aimed at making the pilgrimage for lady pilgrims as smooth and trouble-free as possible."
The court also accepted the suggestion that the entire haj process must be completed in a time bound manner with permissible grace periods where practicable and schedule for making applications, scrutiny etc should be published in advance with firm cut off dates in the Haj Policy itself so that the public at large is informed, well in advance, about those dates which should be treated as inflexible and should not be extended at any cost.
"We accept the submission of Amicus and direct that the time schedule with regard to the haj process as fixed by the Haj Committee of India should be strictly adhered to and no authority or court should interfere in the process of submission of applications, scrutiny and allotment of seats by the Haj Committees, in case the interference would lead to disturbing the time schedule.
"This direction is made keeping in view that in appropriate cases individual interest must yield to the larger good and in the larger interest," the bench said. The apex court accepted the policy presented by Attorney General G E Vahanvati for registration of Private Tour Operators (PTO), saying "it avoids creation of any monopoly and makes provision for entry of fresh players".
The court said the Committee constituted for the purpose of securing accommodations on a long term basis, consists only of Government officials and apparently it has not been able to do anything so far.
"We feel that a Committee with some non-official members may be more effective in this regard. We, accordingly, constitute a committee of Joint Secretary, Gulf and Haj, Convenor; Consul General of India in Jeddah; Chairman of the Haj Committee of India; Najeeb Jung, Vice Chancellor, Jamia Milia Islamia; Syedda Hamid, Member, Planning Commission of India and Haris Beeran, Counsel for the MEA," the bench said.
On the issue of air fare, the court said there is "need to find a middle course" and "we think that the Government of India can make a beginning in this regard by inviting tenders from the three Saudi Airlines and all the Indian registered Airlines besides any other airlines that may be eligible under the Saudi Policy".
Regarding the redressal of grievances, the court advised the Government "to give the responsibility of the haj alone to an officer in the level of the Joint Secretary. In any event, the haj cell should also have a permanent and effective grievance redressal mechanism and an officer of the level of Deputy Secretary should be made in-charge of dealing with all grievances concerning haj received from any of the Haj Committees or any individual or group of individuals."