ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the June 3 Lahore High Court suspension of appointment of Moavineen-i-Hujjaj (helpers) for this year’s Haj operations.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, a three-judge Supreme Court bench suspended the LHC Multan bench order on the grounds that it could create difficulties for the pilgrims in the performance of Haj since the operations had begun.

The high court had suspended the selection of the moavineen when the petitioners claimed before it that such appointments were contrary to the requirements of performance of Haj. The court had also referred the matter to the LHC chief justice to constitute a larger bench and consider vires of the Haj Policy 2022.

The Supreme Court had taken up the federal government’s appeal through the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. The appeal was moved by Additional Attorney General (AAG) Sohail Mahmood, highlighting that operations for the annual pilgrimage were in full swing since May 6, and suspension of the Haj policy at such a belated stage could halt the entire process, causing irreparable loss to the pilgrims.

AAG contends suspension of Haj policy at this stage will halt operations, cause irreparable loss to pilgrims

The moavineen were appointed to facilitate the pilgrims in making necessary arran­gements such as boarding, lodging, transportation, information, safety measures and health services, the appeal explained.

The AAG explained before the apex court that the Haj quota had been reduced considerably to 81,132 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, where around 200,000 pilgrims used to perform Haj earlier. Moreover, the quota was announced by Saudi Arabia belatedly in May when earlier it used to be announced in Oct-Nov.

Due to this, the welfare staff quota was also reduced according to the formula developed by the Kingdom’s authorities, requiring one staff member on service visa against 100 pilgrims, the AAG said, adding that all of the moavineen had to be government servants in different grades up to BS-21.

The Haj policy manifests that the final selection and approval of moavineen had to be made by a Religious Affairs Ministry committee, the appeal contended, adding that a sufficient number of repeaters -- to guide and supervise those who will be performing duties for the first time -- would also be allowed due to the limited time for training fresh moavineen during this year’s Haj missions.

The AAG explained that this year’s Haj was different in many ways due to Covid-19, as the arrangements had been made after two years, adding the moavineen were selected transparently and fairly through balloting.

The appeal argued that the current Haj policy was framed keeping in view the guidelines given by the apex court in the 2014 Dossani Travels Pvt case and duly approved by the cabinet, allowing the selection of moavineen up to BS-21 by the ministry’s committee and also manifesting that a sufficient number of repeat moavineen would also be allowed to guide and supervise those who would be performing duties for the first time due to the limited time for training first-timers.

The appeal argued that the Pakistan government being a facilitator always endeavoured to make Haj as comfortable as possible with the available financial and human resources by making elaborate arrangements through a transparent process. It also argued that the high court order was unlawful, capricious, whimsical and coram non judice (without any jurisdiction), besides the single judge of the high court passed the order in haste without applying judicial mind and giving opportunity to the government.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2022

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