New Delhi: The Ministry of Minority Affairs on Wednesday opposed the plea seeking quashing of the recently issued Guidelines for Haj that barring the disabled from going on the pilgrimage and told the Delhi High Court that such persons were likely to suffer the most if any stampede or mishap took place.
“…the pilgrimage itself is exhausting, each pilgrim has to move along with hundreds of other pilgrims in a swift and short duration through long passages. There is fear of stampede or mishaps. And in such gruelling situation, it is only the pilgrim with physical disabilities who is likely to suffer the most,” the ministry said in its response on the plea seeking quashing of the recently issued Guidelines for Haj (2018-22).
In an affidavit filed before a division bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar, the Ministry stated that Haj is obligated on Muslims with the physical and financial ability to perform pilgrimage as it is physically demanding and involves arduous journey from one place to another on feet and by various other modes of transport.
“It is a massive exercise in which more than two million pilgrims move from Mecca to Medina within a span of few hours, movement of pilgrims to Arafat from Mina is done in a single night,” the ministry said, adding that as per prevailing practice for 30 years, person suffering from physical disabilities or from specified diseases have been debarred from performing Haj.
“The crowd management at Mina station is a gigantic problem,” the ministry said.
“Safety and security of lives of pilgrims are definitely the prime concern of the government and not to deny whimsically the right of any desirous persons to perform Haj pilgrimage.”
The government said that the arrangement has to be kept in preparedness to handle any untoward incidents of emergencies like stampede, fire, accidents, hospitalisation.
However, the ministry assured that it was trying to find means and ways by which disabled aspiring pilgrims may perform Haj in future but requested the court to dismiss the PIL.
The plea, filed by lawyer Gaurav Kumar Bansal, sought quashing of the guidelines issued for Haj from the year 2018 to 2022, as it debars persons with disabilities from applying for the Haj pilgrimage.
The lawyer said that the new guidelines, issued on November 27, 2017, are “discriminatory, arbitrary and highly irrational” as they violate the fundamental rights of disabled persons and also the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWDA) 2016, which has equality and non-discrimination as its guiding principle.
The guidelines state that “any Muslim citizen of India can apply for Haj pilgrimage except persons suffering from polio, tuberculosis, congestive cardiac and respiratory ailment, AIDS, leprosy, acute coronary insufficiency, coronary thrombosis, mental disorder…”
Also disqualified are “persons who are crippled, handicapped, lunatic or otherwise physically incapacitated or suffering from amputation of legs”.