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Apex court backs women tour operators on Haj quota

Delhi,Business/Economy,Immigration/Law/Rights,Religion, Mon, 30 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) Even as it reserved its verdict, the Supreme Court Monday asked the government to consider women private operators in the process for the allocation of Haj quota of pilgrims going to Makkah every year.


The apex court bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai asked the government to consider the plea after it was told that women Haj operators were being discriminated against in the selection process for the allocation of Haj quota.


The court said there would be no discrimination in the selection of women tour operators.


The apex court reserved its verdict on the central government's petition challenging the Oct 5, 2011 Bombay High Court judgment by which it directed the government to give its remaining quota of 800 Haj pilgrims to private operators so that it may not go unutilised.


The high court judgment came after some private tour operators moved it challenging the external affairs ministry's policy which said that only those operators would be eligible for the allocation of Haj pilgrims quota who had an office space measuring 250 sq. feet.


The modified policy asked the tour operators to give bank guarantee of Rs.100,000 for every 100 Hajis they were sending to the pilgrimage.


Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the court that it could not accept the objections of the private Haj tour operators to the new policy as it was pilgrim centric and not for enhancing commercial interest.


The court said those who were engaged in sending pilgrims with a motive of making money needed to be pushed.


The attorney general also reiterated that the requirement of office space of 250 sq. ft. could not be compromised as private tour operators were not just expected to make travel arrangements of Haj pilgrims but also to train them how to perform the Haj and how to go about it.


The court was told that Haj tour operators were expected to do so in public interest.


The court was also told that no two people from the same family would be selected for the allocation of Haj pilgrims quota. As the attorney general said this, the tour operators pleaded that the definition of family should not be made too wide and be restricted to nuclear family only.


Vahanvati told the court that the government would not have any objection to the suggestion to make the annual registration of tour operators on-line.


He said that the suggestion that the duration of the quota allocated to tour operators should be extended from five to 10 years was not acceptable.


He told the court that it would create difficulties in the event of cancelling some operators' permit in the wake of the allegations of malpractices.


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