dailypeghamISLAMABAD: While defending its Hajj Policy for 2016, the religious affairs ministry has voiced apprehensions that delays in balloting for Hajj pilgrims may adversely affect Pakistani pilgrims this year.

The concern appears in a five-page statement filed by the deputy attorney general on behalf of the Hajj ministry on a plea against the 10 per cent cut in the quota of private operators in the latest policy.

The federal government had deferred the balloting process last week. The ministry contends the increase in the government hajj quota is based on popular public demand and the tour operators’ petitions should be dismissed.

The government has also submitted that Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblies have passed resolutions, urging the federal government not to allow the private operators from doing business in the name of Hajj and Umrah packages.

The pace of work, it adds, has been slow because of litigation in the Sindh High Court and any further delays in the policy will affect timely completion of flight schedule.

The ministry claims to have proposed the reduction in Hajj quota of private sector from 50 to 40 per cent in larger public interest to accommodate the maximum number of pilgrims. The Hajj Formulation Committee also did not object to the reduction of quota in the meeting held on March 25.

The three-judge apex court bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, has directed the religious affairs ministry secretary to find out whether or not the new policy could be approved by the committee constituted.

“We have to see if the quota for private Hajj operators was changed as per laws,” the chief justice remarked, asking the secretary if he could get the approval of Hajj Policy 2016 from the committee within two days.

The bench will resume the hearing today (Tuesday).

Earlier, Akram Sheikh, the counsel for some private operators, contended the services for pilgrims were guaranteed as a fundamental right.

He claimed 82 per cent pilgrims in Bangladesh performed Hajj through private operators while 90 per cent pilgrims in Turkey availed private tours. He argued the private Hajj operators were introduced on the insistence of Saudi government.

The chief justice said the judges could not comment at this stage as the decision should have been taken by the committee constituted by the religious ministry. “We are also the citizens of this country as you are and we know everything,” the CJP remarked.