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Ex-Union Minister’s agency behind hawala and human trafficking in Haj, says Govt

New Delhi/Kochi, Aug 8 (): Haj pilgrimage due on August 27 this year is now caught in a controversy.

Additional Solicitor General told Supreme Court that Indian government was told by Saudi Arabia that Haj pilgrims travelling in quota allotted to private tour operators were hawala carriers and human trafficking takes place as many do not come back.

Women from West Bengal were those who did not come back, said the Government ASG to the court. The Government told the court that the biggest tour operator Alhind operates four more tour operator agencies in different ownership names.

Alhind and the benami agencies corner the major portion of private quota of pilgrims. Alhind is run by a relative of a former Union Minister from Kerala. To avoid this was the need to ask the tour operators to file  service tax details of three financial years and delisting of 21 operators.

The court was hearing a case filed by tour operators who objected to the new norms set for them. The tour operators got a stay from Supreme Court but the Ministry has decided not to go back.

The Ministry of External Affairs yesterday warned that 36,000 Indian Haj pilgrims may not be able to make the Haj trip this year unless private tour operators do not end an ongoing dispute with the government. The ministry has also taken the authority to allot the 36,000 Haj pilgrims to the tour operators registered with it. It was now done by the Haj Tour operators association.

The new guidelines were issued through a press release in 2013 by UPA ministry. India quota for sending Haj pilgrims is 1, 56,000 and apart from 36,000, others go under the government-sponsored scheme and selected by Haj committee. The Supreme Court struck down the new guidelines and asked the Government to take steps to stop hawala and human trafficking.

Cases have been filed in Thiruvananthapuram, Srinagar, Mumbai and Indore by private Haj operators. The ministry, subsequently, had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court requesting that the stay in various courts be lifted.

The ministry stance so far was that the private tour operators were using pilgrims for their personal interest s but did not clarify further. The AG statement is seen as real cause for regulations for tour operators.

The Supreme Court hearing the reason for new guidelines has pointed out that since a stay order is in force and new directive can be contempt of court, did not go into further details. Muslim League leaders in Kerala and other Muslim organizations have condemned the AG stance. Kerala Muslim leaders say that this is yet another attempt after the enrolling of orphans in Kerala orphanage being dubbed as human trafficking to defame the community.

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