ISLAMABAD -  The Supreme Court yesterday directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmoy to launch a comprehensive campaign to create awareness among intending pilgrims about authorised Hajj and Umrah tour operators to save them from swindlers.

A 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 Charsadda, and deceitfully inducing a large number of people desirous of performing Hajj last year. After collecting huge money, all the partners of the travel agency disappeared.

The fraud victims approached the police who after investigations found that the said agency was not registered with the Tourism Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Supreme Court, which had reserved its verdict on Feb 22, observed: “The negligence on the part of the ministry provides golden opportunities to the mafia involved in the business of running fake tour and Hajj agencies without little fear of grip of law.

Thus, it has become imperative to issue directions within the powers vested in the court under Article 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 an obligatory duty of the authority to abide by 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 State and the full court bench decision 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 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 authorised to make booking or collect money for sending people to perform Hajj or Umrah.

“At the same time, the 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 and Naib Nazims as well as Nazims and Naib Nazims of union councils, regional offices of NAB, FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment and the information ministries of the federal government and all the provinces to give repeatedly wide publicity to the same through print and electronic media for early information of the public at large, so that they are not defrauded in future.

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 unauthorised person/agency is able to plunder 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 such a case comes to the notice of the court in future.”

The court directed the duly authorised/approved Hajj & Umrah tour operators to display at their offices the authority letter/licence number, date of issue, quota allotted and the amount chargeable by them as permitted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The court directed the ministry to do the needful positively within two months and then the campaign should be vigorously carried out at least three months before the Hajj season of the next year. Any fault or default/negligence on the part of the ministry and those to whom such information is conveyed 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 more serious frauds had been committed by a well organized mafia, citing the example of notorious Double Shah case.