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Plea in court says it is the constitutional right of every Muslim employee of govt to be sent on Haj deputation: Why the argument is ridiculous

What the petition demands is the constitutional right to perform their religious moorings on the taxpayers' money, which, by all accounts, is a ridiculous argument.

An advocate, Aamir Javed, has filed a plea in the Delhi High Court claiming that it is the “constitutional right” of every Muslim employee of the Central and State government to be sent on deployment to Jeddah during the Haj pilgrimage. The petition in the High Court challenges the office memorandum by the Ministry of Minority Affairs dated 20th of March 2023 that changed the rules to let only CAPF cadre be deployed during the Haj pilgrim and not all central and state government employees.

The High Court on Wednesday (5th April 2023) asked the Ministry of Minority Affairs, headed by Smriti Irani, to respond to the plea challending the order dated 20th March. A bench of Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad asked the Haj Division to place their response on record before the next date of hearing, which has been decided for May 10th.

“The petition is being filed on the basis that other Central or State government/UT administration employees are not eligible for any deputation in the office memorandum… dated March 20, 2023, which earlier was a practice of the Government of India to send male and female members of the Muslim community who are employees of various government departments on deputation on a temporary basis to Consulate General of India, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to render assistance to Haj pilgrims,” the plea said.

The plea reportedly said that the work involved is administrative and hence, there is no reason why only CAPF officials should be deployed. The plea, in fact, went as far as to say that it was the “constitutional right” of Muslim employees to be deployed for Haj duty and that the order violates the constitutional rights of those Muslim employees who want to serve Haj pilgrim.

What is the 20th March memorandum and what it says

The memorandum issued by the Ministry of Minority Affairs was titled “Temporary deputation of Coordinators (Admin) / Assistant Haj Officers / Haj Assistants to Consulate General of India, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for Haj 2023 – regarding“.

The memorandum said, “Ministry of Minority Affairs invites online applications from Male and Female Permanent Employees from the Muslim community, working in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) for temporary deputation to Consulate General of India, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to render assistance to Haj pilgrims as Coordinators (Admin),Assistant Haj Officers (AHO)and Haj Assistants (HA) for Haj-2023. Officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) serving can also apply for the post of Coordinator (Admin). Other Central or State Government/ UTs administration Employees are not eligible for any deputation. The period of deputation in KSA will be approximately for a period of 02-03 months tentatively from May, 2023 to July, 2023″.

The memorandum specifically said that other central or state government/UT administration employees were not eligible for any deputation.

The memorandum said, “The services of the deputationists will be placed at the disposal of the Consulate General of India (CGI), Jeddah, Ministry of External Affairs during their deputation and they will be deployed by CGI, Jeddah, at various Branch offices in Makkah, Madinah, Haj terminal at Jeddah, Camps at Mina and Arafat, etc. on functional requirement basis, to render assistance to Indian Haj pilgrims and CGI Jeddah during Haj-2023. They will be deemed to be on 24 hours duty during the entire period of deputation and will be allocated tasks for specified duration depending on exigencies. No extra remuneration or compensation will be payable to them except the normal admissible Foreign Allowance. The job involves assisting the pilgrims at the office of the local Maktabs, camps, during the pilgrimage, in their daily activities, their grievances and also in performing their Haj rituals. The work would be administrative in nature and also involve coordination with local authorities, CGI, Jeddah and managing the Indian contingent of appx 1,40,000 Indian pilgrims of HCol, participating in Haj-2023”.

The copy of the memorandum can be accessed here: http://haj.nic.in/deputation/pdf/DeputationOM.pdf

Why deputing CAPF officials make sense and why the petition makes no sense

Saudi Arabia essentially says that the individual countries are responsible for taking care of their own pilgrims and therefore, even India sends deputations to ensure that the Haj pilgrims are taken care of. Earlier, there were over 900 Muslim employees from the Central govt, State govt and Union Territories who were sent on deputation to Jeddah. The problem with that aspect was these deputations had no specific training to take care of situations that arose during the pilgrimage.

For example, if there was stampede, the 900 deputations were not equipped to deal with such situations since most of these deputations were clerks, teachers and the likes, with no training to deal with overseas crisis situations.

Smriti Irani in 2023 changed the rules. Instead of sending a contingent of untrained central/state/UT officials, she decided that CAPF men, trained to deal with crisis situations, would be sent on deputation to Jeddah. The decision was taken on another basis. When untrained professionals were sent, they needed a contingent of 900 people on deputation, however, when trained CAPF men are sent on deputation, the ration of the number of officials needed per 100 pilgrim would also decrease. From 900 deputations, the change in tact would result in only 300 people being deployed.

In both cases, only Muslim officers can apply since Jeddah does not allow non-Muslims no step foot in Mecca.

Essentially, the petition says that this step by Smriti Irani led Ministry of Minority Affairs violates the fundamental rights of Muslim employees of the central, state, and union territory admin governments because it is their “constitutional right” to serve Haj pilgrims as Muslims.

This argument, however, is one devoid of logic. The constitution allows its citizens freedom to practise and advocate their religion which would essentially mean that it allows the freedom to Muslim citizens to go on Haj and perform their religious duties. However, the constitution in no way, shape, manner or form grants the right to Muslims to go on Haj on the taxpayers’ money behind the garb of “serving Haj pilgrims”.

What the petition demands is the constitutional right to perform their religious moorings on the taxpayers’ money, which, by all accounts, is a ridiculous argument. Interstingly, while a supposed pious Muslim is demanding his mythical “constitutional right” to perform Haj on taxpayers’ money, the pious Muslim seems to have compromised with the fact that freeloading for a Haj pilgrimage is considered Haram in the very religion on the basis of which he wants the state to fund the religious moorings of government officials.

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