ISLAMABAD: While a number of petitions pertaining to the Haj operations after being clubbed together on a recent apex court order are pending before the Islamabad High Court, the federal cabinet on Wednesday decided to hold balloting for the pilgrimage on half of the official quota for applicants.
The decision aimed at partly resolving the issue may not affect the contentions of private Haj operators who had obtained stay orders against new Haj Policy-2018.
The cabinet meeting, which was presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, reviewed current status of legal proceedings and the need to inform the Saudi authorities about a maximum number of intending pilgrims before March 3 for finalising flight schedules.
According to the spokesman for the prime minister, the secretary of religious affairs ministry earlier briefed the meeting about progress on arrangement for Haj.
Under the Haj Policy-2018, the share of private Haj operators has been slashed from 40 to 33 per cent of total quota allocated by the Saudi authorities for Pakistani pilgrims. Private operators challenged the decision and moved the Sindh High Court and Lahore High Court to obtain stay orders, making the government unable to decide the fate of 179,210 pilgrims. The balloting was earlier scheduled to be held on Jan 28.
This year 374,829 people have applied for Haj on government quota against the provisional quota for 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims allocated by the Saudi authorities.
The cabinet meeting observed that the petitioners (private operators) had no objection to the 50pc government quota therefore the ministry of religious affairs should go for balloting immediately.
Recently the apex court had directed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to club together all objections to the Haj Policy 2018, filed in different courts across the country, and constitute a single bench or a divisional bench to dispose them of. As the IHC is yet to start hearing the case, the cabinet directed the ministry of religious affairs to request the court to finalise the legal proceedings at the earliest by holding day to day hearing of the case so that applications of the remaining 50pc intending pilgrims could also be decided.
About corruption allegations in the Kachhi Canal project, the cabinet reviewed an inquiry report and decided to constitute a committee, headed by the minister for water resources, for implementation of the steps recommended in the report.
The cabinet also approved applicability of Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance, 2001 to Zone-V of Islamabad and directed the interior ministry to review the law. It asked the interior ministry to place the case before the next cabinet meeting for applicability of law in other parts of Islamabad.
The cabinet approved a proposal for grant of additional charge of Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) chairman to senior joint secretary of the ministry for religious affairs, Mohammad Ashraf Lanjaar, directing the ministry to expedite framing of relevant rules as per order of the Supreme Court.
The meeting also approved signing of a memorandum of understanding between the inter-provincial coordination ministry and the American Institute of Pakistan Studies.
Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2018