Hajj balloting halted after SHC stay order

A staggering 374,829 applications for Hajj have been received this year by the religious affairs ministry

Amin Hafeez

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony halted on Friday the balloting of official Hajj applications due to ‘unclear’ policy on the quota of operators as well as a court stay order. 

Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Secretary Khalid Masood shared that the balloting has been halted due to various verdicts by three different courts on the quota issue.

He said that the Lahore High Court had ordered that quota for government and private Hajj operators should be 50/50. 

Later, a two-member bench of the Sindh High Court had ordered that the quota should be 60 percent for government operators and 40 percent for private operators, he remarked, adding that on Thursday the Sindh High Court's Sukkur Bench ordered a stay on the balloting process.

A petitioner had approached the high court against the clause in the government's new policy which states that individuals need to wait for a certain period before performing the holy pilgrimage again. 

On the other hand, federal cabinet had decided last year to keep the quota for government at 67 percent and for private tour operators at 33 percent, Masood said.

Sources informed Geo News that verdicts by three different courts led to some confusion among the Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Ministry.

Hajj quota has become a chronic issue since it surfaces every year with a number of petitions instituted against the government's policy.

People proceeding on Hajj can either use private tour operators or the government quota which is finalised through a ballot. 

On May 17 last year, the Supreme Court ordered the government to reframe the newly approved Hajj policy 2017 by accommodating those private Haj tour operators who were denied quota earlier, adding that no Haj group organisers should suffer on account of being a comparatively new or junior entrant.

Record number of applications

A staggering 374,829 applications for Hajj were received by the government as part of its Government Hajj scheme in 10 days, according to Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yousaf.

A total of 119,473 applications will be selected under the programme. 

About 80,000 applicants intend to depart from Karachi, 71,000 from Lahore, 67,000 from Islamabad, 64,000 from Peshawar, 31,000 from Multan, 17,000 from Quetta, 16,000 from Faisalabad, 13,000 from Sialkot, 5,000 from Sukkur, and 3,000 from Rahim Yar Khan.

Under the new Hajj policy the cost for the pilgrimage will be the same as last year; Rs280, 000 for pilgrims from Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Rs270,000 for pilgrims from Sindh and Balochistan.  

Additional input from APP