A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Tuesday admitted a writ petition seeking a directive to the Centre to constitute an impartial agency for conducting an effective investigation into the alleged irregularities in the allotment of quota for the Haj pilgrimage to private tour operators from 2004 to 2009.

The Bench, consisting of Chief Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice C.N. Ramachandran Nair, admitting the petition, issued notice to E. Ahamed, Union Minister of State for Railways, the Central and State governments and the Central and State Haj committees.

According to the petitioner, Khalid Mundappilly from Aluva, the Haj, a religious worship for Muslims, had now become a multi-crore business for private tour operators. The Saudi government, which regulated the pilgrimage, stipulated certain quota for each country. The Central and State Haj committees made arrangements for the travel, stay and safe return of the pilgrims.

He said private tour operators entered the scene in 2001 when they were allowed to fly 50 to 500 pilgrims. When the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in 2004, Mr. Ahamed was made Union Minister of State for External Affairs and was in charge of Haj pilgrimage. The petitioner said Mr. Ahamed, who had ‘close connections' with private tour operator Al Hind, started doling out quotas to certain tour operators. The petitioner alleged that this particular tour operator was allotted 1,700 pilgrims when the Ministry's guidelines allowed only 500. Tour operators from Mumbai and Kozhikode were favoured, leading to a fraudulent practice of getting registered in different names and usurping quotas in excess.

Additional quota

He pointed that while the Central Haj Committee, in reply to an application under the Right to Information Act, said the External Affairs Ministry had dealt with the additional quota granted by the Saudi government last year, the Ministry informed the petitioner that it was allotted to the Haj Committee. Thus, it had created suspicion that the additional quota had not been distributed fairly and transparently. He alleged that the Haj Committee was swindling the money of pilgrims by providing sub-standard accommodation.

The petitioner said a television channel had exposed that the quota made available to the tour operator was sold to pilgrims at a whopping sum. The Ministry had earlier decided to order a judicial inquiry into these allegations. However, the Union government backtracked on the decision, presumably because of pressure exerted by Mr. Ahamed and his party.

The petitioner sought a directive to the Centre not to allocate any quota for private tour operators. He pleaded for introducing a transparent system for registration and selection of pilgrims on the basis of seniority in registration.

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