New Delhi, Jun 8 (IANS): The Delhi High Court has held that the Haj pilgrimage and its associated rituals are considered a form of 'religious practice,' which is protected under the Constitution of India.
A single-judge bench of Justice Chandra Dhari Singh was hearing a series of petitions filed by multiple Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) challenging the suspension of their registration and quota, as well as the show cause notice issued to them by the Centre.
Justice Singh said that Article 25 of the Indian constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion for all citizens.
"Haj Pilgrimage and the ceremonies involved therein fall within the ambit of a religious practice, which is protected by the Constitution of India. Religious freedoms are one of the most cherished rights guaranteed and enshrined under the Constitution in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the Modern Indian Republic," he said.
Consequently, the court stated the Centre's decision to suspend the registration of certain HGOs and put their Haj quota on hold.
The argument put forth was that the government published a consolidated list of the allocation of Haj Quota for Haj-2023, publishing a comment stating that the petitioners' registration certificate and quota were put on hold until the finalisation of proceedings in a complaint-related matter.
The HGOs contended that their registration certificates and Haj quotas were arbitrarily suspended until the resolution of the complaint-related proceedings.
On the other hand, the counsel representing the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs claimed that the petitioner HGOs had misrepresented facts, which became apparent during a visit by ministry officials to their office premises.
The court was informed that the government is considering severe punitive action, including blacklisting and canceling the registration of the non-compliant HGOs.
It was further argued that the government does not want to jeopardise the pilgrims' well-being by entrusting them to these non-compliant HGOs.
The bench, however, prima facie concluded that while restrictions and conditions on the issuance of registration certificates and allocated quotas to HGOs may be imposed, such actions should not harm the pilgrims who registered in good faith to undertake the pilgrimage.
Justice Singh stated that taking such action would undermine the purpose of the current Hajj Policy and would contravene Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
As the interpreter of the Constitution and the custodian of citizens' rights, the court must exercise its powers under Article 226 to uphold the provisions and guarantees enshrined therein, instead of letting them remain merely in writing.
"This Court is an interpreter of the Constitution as well as the custodian of the rights of citizens, therefore this Court must exercise its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution to give effect to its provisions and the guarantees therein, lest they shall remain only in the black and white in the text but not in its application," Justice said.
Justice Singh emphasised the need to find an alternative solution to ensure that the law takes its course without hindering the well-intentioned citizens who wish to undertake the Haj pilgrimage.
The Bench also recognised that the pilgrimage to Haj is not merely a vacation but a means of practicing religious faith, which is a fundamental right.
Therefore, as the protector of pilgrims' rights, the court resolved to take the necessary measures in this regard.
Consequently, the court stayed the decision to put the registration certificates and Hajj quotas of the petitioner HGOs on hold.
The court ordered that the authorities ensure that the affected pilgrims, due to the petitioner's defaults, are not hindered and can undertake the Hajj pilgrimage without any obstacles.
The authorities may proceed with the investigation based on the show cause notice issued to the petitioner, as per Justice Singh's order.