A Kerala High Court ruling, directing the Ministry of External Affairs to keep in abeyance all proceedings to distribute the discretionary quota to Haj applicants directly by it on recommendation letters from State Ministers and MPs, has come as a relief to the State Haj Committee.

P.T.A. Rahim, Chairman of the committee, says the ruling has livened up the hope that the discretionary quota will be given back to the State Haj committees and can be distributed among eligible and deserving applicants based on their age and other genuine criteria.

Contrary to the conventional practice, the Ministry this time had asked the applicants to apply directly to it along with the recommendation letters for getting Haj seats from the discretionary quota. The State Haj committees had criticised the move, alleging that the decision would make way for large-scale corruption.

The court ruling came on Thursday following a public interest litigation petition moved by a social worker, N.K. Abdul Azeez, from Kozhikode, challenging the Ministry's decision.

Sebastian Paul, advocate of the complainant, told The Hindu that the court had sent notice to the parties concerned, including the Ministry and the Central Haj Committee, communicating the details of its ruling.

A Central Haj Committee notification had set a June 30 deadline for applying for the discretionary quota. With the court ruling in place, the Ministry cannot distribute the quota. The respondents can move court, but it will take time and the Haj committees cannot wait beyond a point as the Haj season is closing in. “And hence, a possibility is that the discretionary quota will soon be distributed to the State Haj committees as was the practice earlier,” Mr. Rahim says.

Of the 38,154 haj applicants from the State, only 6,784 (less than 20 per cent) can go for Haj this time in the government sector.

Mr. Rahim says if the discretionary quota is granted to the State committee, approximately 1,300 more pilgrims can make it. “It will be a huge relief to many of the hopefuls who are still on the waiting list,” he says.