Muslims aged between 65 and 69 years, who are fifth time unsuccessful applicants for Haj pilgrimage, have a reason to rejoice as the Supreme Court today directed the Centre to accommodate 1,965 such people for travel to Mecca this year.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud also held that its order would also apply to the sixth time or more than sixth time unsuccessful applicants falling in the same age group.
"We direct that the persons who come within the age group of 65 to 69 years and are not successful in going on pilgrimage even once, despite applying for fifth time or more, shall also be covered," the bench said.
The order came after the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs informed the top court that a decision has been taken by the ministry to cover the pilgrims in the age group of 65 to 69 years, who are fifth time applicants for Haj in 2018.
The Ministry also told the court that the Haj Committee of India will be advised to accommodate 1,965 individuals who are willing and meeting the criteria and the rest of the seats will be allocated to pilgrims from the general waiting list as per the standard procedure.
"In view of the aforesaid, we are sure that 1,965 persons who are in the category of fifth time applicants shall be extended the benefit of this decision and will be in position to go on pilgrimage this year.
"There can be no trace of doubt that the sixth time or more than sixth time applicants between the age group of 65 and 69 years and who have not been able to avail the opportunity to go on pilgrimage even once, shall also be given the same benefit of the Ministry's decision. We may hasten to add that the people who have crossed the age of 70 years, are, under the policy, entitled to benefit of separate exclusive quota," the bench said.
The court then fixed the plea, challenging the Centre's policy on allocation of Haj seats, of the Kerala Haj Committee for final hearing on July 10.
The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to apprise it by tomorrow about the total allocation of Haj quota seats and the vacancies if any on a plea of the Kerala Haj Committee alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims was discriminatory.
The Centre had said the Union of India had been allowed by the Saudi Arabian government to send 1.75 lakh Haj pilgrims every year and the Centre and the Central Haj Committee, in consultation with the state Haj panels, have devised a mechanism to distribute the quota on the basis of the Muslim population in each state.
Out of 1.75 lakh Haj seats, 1.25 lakh seats are distributed by the state Haj committees while the remaining seats are given to private tour operators as per the policy decision, it had said.
Earlier, the apex court, in an interim direction, had asked the Centre to file a statement with regard to the fifth time applicants who have crossed the age of 65 years and were below 70 years and have never been able to go for the Haj.
The apex court, on January 5, had issued the notice to the Centre on the Kerala Haj Committee's plea alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims was discriminatory.
The Kerala Haj committee, in its plea, had referred to the example of Bihar and said it gets 12,000 Haj seats as against the total number of applicants of 6,900.
In stark contrast, Kerala gets 6,000 seats against 95,000 applicants desirous to go for the pilgrimage, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the committee, had said.
"As a result, every applicant in Bihar gets the opportunity to go for Haj. However, in Kerala, the situation is unpleasant," he had said, adding that there should be an all-India draw of lots to decide who will go on Haj.
The Kerala Haj Committee alleged that the present quota system was discriminatory.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had justified the present quota policy saying it had been devised by the Central Haj Committee after considering the suggestions of 31 different state Haj committees.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)