Supreme Court verdict on Hajj case petition
ISLAMABAD: (APP) The Supreme Court Monday directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony for launching a comprehensive campaign to create awareness among intending pilgrims about authorized Hajj and Umrah tour operators to save them from swindlers.
The apex court also observed that the ministry was not performing its statutory obligations and directed it to create awareness in the public, particularly of the far flung areas, through wide range publicity, both through electronic and print media, at the district, tehsil and union council levels indicating the approved and authorized Hajj and Umrah tour operators, listed on the approved list of the ministry with a fixed quota, also indicating that how much money/fee they can collect from each individual, to be sent for performing Hajj or Umrah and what facilities they are required to provide at the holy places in Saudi Arabia during the period of performing rituals, including travel and transport facilities of a particular category.
The three-member SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Maqbool Baqar announced the verdict on a petition against the Peshawar High Court verdict filed by Qari Ameer Ahmed Shah and others, who were booked for running a fake travel agency, M. Mustafa Manpower Travel Agency Charsadda, and deceitfully inducing a large number of people, desirous to perform Hajj last year.
After collecting huge sum of money, all the partners of the travel agency disappeared.
The fraud victims approached the police, which after investigations found that even the said agency was not registered with the Tourism Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Supreme Court, which had reserved its verdict on February 22, observed that the negligence on the part of the ministry "provides golden opportunities to the mafia involved in the detestable business of running fake tour and Hajj operator agencies, without little fear of grip of law, while defrauding the people. Thus, it has become imperative to issue directions within the powers vested in the court under Articles 184 (3) and 187 of the Constitution to the relevant authorities within the Federation and the provinces to do what is required by the law and the Constitution to do."
The verdict authored by Justice Dost Muhammad Khan stated that under Article 5(2) of the Constitution "it is the obligatory duty of the authority, including every citizen, to be obedient to the Constitution and the law of the land. This obligation has been made inviolable and this court in many cases, particularly in the case of Nazar Hussain v. The State (2002 P Cr. L J 440) and the Full Court Bench's decision, rendered in the case of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif v. President of Pakistan
(PLD 1993 SC 473) has exercised such powers though, it was not directly a point in issue in those petitions.
"Another living example is the case of Dr. Mubashir Hassan v. the Federation of Pakistan (PLD 2010 SC 265), whereby, the clean chit given to corrupt elements under the law, famous for its notoriety called, "NRO" was struck down to bring to naught the provision of the said law, so that corruption and corrupt practices are plugged forever."
The court directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to update its website in English, Urdu and all local languages, conveniently readable and understandable by the illiterate poor people, showing all the details about the duly approved Hajj & Umrah tour operators, warning the public at large that except those mentioned on the website, no other agency or tour & Hajj operator is authorized to make booking or collect money for sending people to perform Hajj or
"At the same time, the said ministry shall give wide publicity to such lists through electronic and print media and also through handbills/notifications in different languages, which shall be sent to the DCOs/deputy commissioners and DPOs of each and every district of each province and ICT.
"Similarly, such handbills/pamphlets/booklets duly authenticated with the stamp and the signatures of the competent authority of the said ministry shall be sent to the Nazims and Naib Nazims of each district in the provinces and ICT; Tehsil Nazims, Naib Nazims as well as the Nazims and Naib Nazims of the Union Councils; the regional offices of the NAB, FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment of the provinces and the Federation and the information ministries, of the Federal Government and all the provinces, to give repeatedly wide publicity to the same through print media and electronic media for early information of the public at large, so that they are not defrauded in future in such manner as has been continuously done in the past.
After receiving such lists/booklets/handbills by the local authorities and anti-corruption watchdog, it shall be their responsibility to keep watchful eye on the Hajj & Umrah Tour Operators and other similar agencies so that no unauthorized person/agency is able to operate and practice fraud upon innocent citizens in future. In case of any negligence or default on the part of such agencies, they would be liable for prosecution under the relevant provision of law, besides departmental action has to be taken against them, whenever in future such case comes to the notice of the court."
The court directed that the duly authorized/approved Hajj & Umrah tour operators to display on their offices, the authority letter/license number, date of issue, the quota allotted and the amount chargeable by them, permitted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and made them liable to execute a guaranty/indemnity bond that they will publish a booklet/handbill, to be handed over to each applicant, desirous to perform Hajj and Umrah, which shall contain all details of expenses, chargeable and all the facilities , to be provided to them during transit from Pakistan to Kingdom of Saudia Arabia (KSA) and within KSA while performing Hajj or Umrah including transport, lodging boarding, provision of food and other facilities required of them.
"The services of NADRA and PTA be availed to provide multiple Universal Access Number(s) (UAN), cell phone & landlines facilities and public be informed to get verification and authentic information from the Ministry of Hajj about every "Hajj" and "Umrah" private operators including the amount of money chargeable," the apex court observed.
The court directed the ministry to do the needful positively within .two months (this year) and then the campaign should be vigorously carried out at least three months before Hajj season of the next year commences. Any fault or default/negligence on the part of the ministry and those, to whom such information is conveyed by it, shall be deemed to have violated the law and the Constitution and besides departmental action to be initiated, they would be liable to be prosecuted under the law, whenever such case is reported to the court, it added.
The court also observed that similar rather more serious frauds had been committed in this fashion by a well-organized mafia, citing the example of notorious "Double Shah" case.
"Unauthorized Hajj and Umrah tour operators have swindled millions of money of the poor public in the past. All the watch dogs to prevent such corruption, corrupt practices and fraud remained in deep slumber till the time the crimes were fully consummated and then, on the complaint of the aggrieved community/people they started investigation," it remarked.
The court said prevention of such crimes was the constitutional and statutory obligation of the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, Anti-Corruption Establishment, the police and all the relevant ministries, authorities and statutory bodies within the provinces and the Federal Government but they have been found consistently inconsistent in performing such obligatory duties well in time.
This attitude, the court observed, allowed the fraudsters to commit such crimes with impunity, who operate openly in the big cities and public places but all such authorities turned deaf ears and added salt to the hurts and agony of the poor.
"This phenomenon of laxity and negligence on their part would not and should not be tolerated anymore."
The court dismissed the petition noting that after going through the materials on record/evidence collected so far, it was of the considered view that at the moment the petitioners were well connected with the crime because no malice or mala fide was attributed to the complainant and other victims, as to why they were falsely implicated in this case.
The court observed,"This nature of frauds have become so common that, every year, before the Hajj season commences, innocent and rustic people are looted by various so-called agencies, including the unauthorized tour operators, of which judicial notice is required to be taken to curb the increasing menace of frauds practiced in religious and pious matters, therefore, courts are required to treat these cases differently and such frauds must be brought to halt."
The verdict said the petitioners were not entitled to the concession of grant of bail.