SC seeks Centres reply on Kerala Haj panels plea alleging

SC seeks Centres reply on Kerala Haj panels plea alleging
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court today sought the response of the Centre on a plea of the Kerala Haj committee alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims is discriminatory.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud asked the central government to file its response on the plea within two weeks and posted the petition for hearing on January 30.

The Kerala Haj committee said that the Indian government has been allowed by the Saudi Arabian government to send 1.7 lakh Haj pilgrims every year and the Centre distributed the quota on the basis of the Muslim population in each state.

Terming the state-wise quota policy based on population as “arbitrary” and “discriminatory”, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Kerala panel, said that Kerala has a higher number of people who want to go on Haj pilgrimage than states such as Bihar.

He sought a direction that there should be an all-India draw of lots for selecting the pilgrims.

The Haj committee referred to the example of Bihar and said it gets 12,000 pilgrimage seats against a total number of 6,900 applications this year.

In stark contrast, Kerala gets 6,000 seats against 95,000 applicants desirous to go on Haj, Bhushan said.

“As a result, every applicant in Bihar gets the opportunity to go for Haj. However, in Kerala, the situation is not so,” he said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, justified the present quota policy, saying it had been devised by the central Haj committee after considering the suggestions of 31 different state Haj panels.

He said that he would file a response on behalf of the Centre which would make the situation clear.

During the hearing, the bench asked as to whether the Haj seats could be alloted in equal proportion and said that it would hear the matter after the Centre files its response.

Bhushan also raised the issue of allotting 25 per cent Haj seats to private tour operators and alleged that they charge an exorbitant price up to Rs four lakhs from one pilgrim.

Instead of allowing private operators, the government should be sending all pilgrims for Haj which would begin in August this year, he said.

PTI