New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Centre to furnish details of applicants aged between 65 and 70 years, who have applied for four times earlier but have not been able to go for the Haj pilgrimage.
The top court clarified that it was an ad-interim measure and wanted the Centre to file the details of such persons to examine the issue raised by the Kerala Haj committee alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims was discriminatory.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud sought the Centres response by February 19.
"Purely as an ad-interim measure, it is directed that Pinky Anand, Additional Solicitor General, shall file a statement with regard to the fifth time applicants, who have crossed the age of 65 years and are below 70 years and have never been able to go for the pilgrimage," the bench said.
Fifth time applicants are those who had applied four times earlier but were unable to go for Haj due to the limited quota fixed by the Centre for each state, and have applied again this year.
During the hearing, the ASG said the Centres policy was that all Haj seats should be equally distributed among the states and all of them should be given equal opportunity.
The bench then asked Anand as to what happened to the surplus seats.
She said the surplus seats "are kept in general pool and then subsequently distributed among the states on the basis of application received statewise."
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Haj Committee, said the current policy of the Centre to give state-wise quota was "arbitrary" and "discriminatory".
He said Kerala has a higher number of people who want to go for Haj pilgrimage than states like Bihar and suggested that there should be an all-India draw of lots to select the pilgrims.
"First, let the details come then we will see what can be done in the case," the bench said.
On January 5, the apex court had issued notice to the Centre seeking its response on the plea within two weeks.
The Kerala Haj committee had said that India has been allowed by the Saudi Arabian government to send 1.7 lakh Haj pilgrims every year and the Centre distributed the quota on the basis of the Muslim population in each state.
The Haj committee had earlier referred to the example of Bihar and said it gets 12,000 pilgrimage seats as against a total number of 6,900 applications last year.
In stark contrast, Kerala got 6,000 seats against 95,000 applicants desirous to go for Haj and, as a result, every applicant in Bihar gets the opportunity to go for Haj, but in Kerala, the situation was not so, it had said.
The Centre had justified the present quota policy saying it had been devised by the Central Haj Committee after considering the suggestions of the state Haj panels.
The Haj Committee had also raised the issue of allotting 25 per cent Haj seats to private tour operators and alleged that they charged exorbitant price of up to Rs four lakh from one pilgrim.
Instead of allowing private operators, the government should be sending all pilgrims for Haj which would begin in August this year, it had said.