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LAHORE, June 5: The Lahore High Court chief justice on Wednesday restrained the ministry of religious affairs from collecting Rs5,000 as “compensation fund” from pilgrims through Haj Group Organisers (HGOs).

The chief justice further directed the ministry to obtain affidavits from the HGOs being allotted the quota in order to ensure maximum facility for the pilgrims.

The CJ was hearing a set of petitions challenging Haj Policy 2013 and process of quota allocation by the ministry.

Earlier, Additional Attorney General Abdul Hayee Gillani submitted a report about action taken against the HGOs. He said 70 HGOs had been blacklisted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These operators were allocated quota of 9,000 pilgrims that could be cancelled if the court asked the ministry, he added.

The chief justice remarked it was shame for Pakistan government that KSA took action against the HGOs and the government failed to penalise them despite having evidence of their default.

Representing the petitioners, Advocate Azhar Siddique said huge misappropriation was being committed in the name of compensation fund. He pointed out that Competition Commission of Pakistan in a report had also recommended the ministry to abolish the compensation fund in order to reduce the cost of Haj.

Mr Gillani stated that Rs545 million collected under the head of the said fund had been frozen in compliance with Supreme Court order in Haj corruption case. The chief justice, however, stopped the ministry from collecting the fund from the pilgrims through the HGOs.

The CJ adjourned hearing till June 18 and sought report about quota of pilgrims available with the ministry.

The petitioners had pleaded that the ministry was allocating quota without verifying credibility of HGOs. They said some provisions of the Haj Policy 2013 had been amended with mala fide intention and the ministry also ignored the CCP’s report in this regard.