SC Upholds Haj Policy 2019-23

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NEW DELHI — Up doling the Haj Policy 2019-23, which categorises the Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) on the parameters of their experience and financial strength, the Supreme Court on Monday found “nothing arbitrary or unreasonable” in such a classification by the government.

In a judgment, a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer also drew a line on their power of judicial scrutiny of government policy decisions. “It is settled law that policy decisions of the Executive are best left to it and a court cannot be propelled into the unchartered ocean of Government policy,” Justice Sikri, who authored the verdict, said.

Justice Sikri wrote that “public authorities must have liberty and freedom in framing the policies. It is well accepted principle that in complex social, economic and commercial matters, decisions have to be taken by governmental authorities keeping in view several factors and it is not possible for the courts to consider competing claims and to conclude which way the balance tilts. Courts are ill-equipped to substitute their decisions”.

The 22-page judgment said the Policy was finally drawn on the basis of feedback received from more than 180 individual private tour operators (PTO) and associations, including the Indian Federation Haj PTOs of India and jointly by other PTO associations.

 “All the issues raised by the PTOs and their Associations were examined in the Ministry. These suggestions/comments were considered in the Ministry in consultation with the IIT Delhi. Taking into consideration the suggestions/comments received on the draft Policy, twelve changes/modifications were made in the draft Policy and final Policy was circulated on December 20, 2018,” the judgment noted.

The court’s judgment gives a sense of finality and stability to HGOs, which would in turn favour thousands of Haj pilgrims from India, especially a large number from States like Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc.

The court said the government has paid equal attention to both experience and financial prowess of the HGOs while classifying them in various categories. “It is submitted that where 1,75,000 people embark upon a pilgrimage, financial strength of the PTO is of utmost importance and cannot be overlooked. Financial strength is important because when the pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia, the PTOs are required to make all arrangements for transportation, air travel, boarding and lodging, local transportation and provision of guide, etc,” the court observed.

The judgment explained that the “Ministry cannot afford to take any chance on this aspect as the lack of adequate financial strength of the PTOs may result in the pilgrims becoming stranded in a foreign country or facing other hardships”. 

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