Says corruption watchdogs remain in deep slumber till fraud committed; takes serious notice of fleecing people in name of Haj, Umra; says Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony not performing its statutory obligations; calls for creating awareness among masses about approved list of private Haj operators
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday observed that the trend of laxity and negligence on the part of National Accountability Buraeu (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Anti-Corruption Establishment to prevent corruption and corrupt practices would not be tolerated anymore.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Mushir Alam comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Maqbool Baqir, dismissed the appeal filed by Haji Shahid Hussain and others against the order of the learned single judge of the Peshawar High Court on October 17, 2016.
Haji Shahid Hussain and other co-accused were booked for crimes u/s 419, 420, 468 PPC vide FIR No333 dated 29.8.2016. The allegations against the petitioners and their co-accused are that with mutual collaboration, they were running a fake travel agency under trade name, “M Mustafa Manpower Travel Agency” office of which was located in Japan Chowk, Shakoor Bazaar, within the jurisdiction of PS Mandni, District Charsadda.
They deceitfully induced a large number of people, desirous of performing Haj of the last season and in this way collected huge amount of money (that ran into millions) fraudulently; however, the complainant and a few others reported the crime to the police. After defrauding the people, all the partners of the said agency including one Qari Ameer Ahmed Shah disappeared with the collected money. Neither were those, from whom the money was collected, sent to KSA for Haj nor was the money returned to them.
The judgment authored by Justice Dost Muhammad Khan said that “frauds on this count have become so common that, every year, before the Haj season commences, innocent people are looted by various so-called agencies including the unauthorised tour operators, of which judicial notice is required to be taken to curb the increasing menace of frauds practiced in religious and pious matters, therefore, courts are required to treat these cases differently and such frauds must be brought to halt.
“Accordingly, by tentative assessment, we are of the view that the petitioners are not entitled to the concession of grant of bail, in the peculiar circumstances, therefore, this petition is dismissed and leave to appeal is refused,” the court ruled.
The judgment ruled that during the course of hearing it was observed that for the last many years, similar rather more serious frauds had been committed in this fashion by a well-organised mafia.
“The notorious case of “Double Shah” may be cited with bold letters, says the judgment with the ruling that unauthorised haj and umrah tour operators have swindled millions of rupees of the poor public in the past.
The court observed that all the watchdogs to prevent such corruption, corrupt practices and fraud remained in deep slumber till the time the crimes were fully consummated and then, on the complaint of the aggrieved community/people, they started investigation.
The court noted that prevention of such crimes was the constitutional and statutory obligation of the NAB, FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment, the Police and all the relevant ministries/authorities/statutory bodies within the provinces and the federal government but they had been found consistently inconsistent in performing such obligatory duties well in time and allowed the fraudsters to commit such crimes with impunity as they operated openly in big cities and public places but all these authorities, referred to above and remained negligent and failed to redress the sufferings of the poorest of the poor, albeit they were paid handsome emoluments, perks and privileges from the taxpayers’ money.
“This phenomenon of laxity and negligence on their part would not and should not be tolerated anymore,” the verdict ruled. The judgment further ruled that during the course of hearing, the investigating officer and the law officer said that a request for prompt action was conveyed to the KP NAB DG through proper-channel but so far no action had been taken in this regard.
It is surprising, rather shocking that till date the NAB Regional Office, KP has taken no action by further investigation of the case, says the judgment.
“We have gone through the materials on record/evidence collected so far, and are of the considered view that, at the moment the petitioners are well connected with the crime because no malice or mala fide was attributed to the complainant and other victims, as to why they were falsely implicated in this case, thus this petition deserved outright dismissal and order accordingly, the judgment further ruled.
The judgment noted that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony was also not performing its statutory obligations.
The court directed it to create awareness among the public, particularly of the far-flung areas, through wide range publicity, both through electronic and print media, at the district, tehsil and union council level indicating the approved and authorised Haj and tour operators, listed on the approved list of the ministry with a fixed quota, also indicating how much money/fee they could collect from each individual, to be sent for performing “Haj” or “Umrah” and what facilities they were required to provide at the holy places in Saudi Arabia during the period of performing rituals including travel and transport facilities of a particular category.
“This negligence on the part of the ministry provides golden opportunities to the mafia involved in the detestable business of running fake tour and Haj operator agencies, without a little fear of grip of law, while defrauding the people. Thus, it has become imperative to issue directions to do what is required by the law and the Constitution to do,” says the judgment.
The court also directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony to update its website in English, Urdu and all local languages, conveniently readable and understandable by the illiterate poor people, showing all the details about the duly approved Haj and Umrah tour operators, warning the public at large that except those mentioned on the website, no other agency or tour and haj operator was authorised to make booking or collect money for sending people to perform Haj or Umrah.
At the same time, the said 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 shall be sent to the Nazims and Naib Nazims of each district in the provinces and ICT; tehsil nazims, naib nazims as well as the nazims and naib nazims of the union councils; the regional offices of the NAB, FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment of the provinces and the federation and the information ministries of the federal government and all the provinces, to give repeatedly wide publicity to the same through print media and electronic media for early information of the public at large, so that they are not defrauded in future in such manner as has been continuously done in the past. 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 haj and umrah tour operators and other similar agencies so that no unauthorised person/agency is able to operate and play fraud upon innocent citizens in future.
In case of any negligence or default on the part of such agencies, they would be liable to prosecution under the relevant provision of law. Besides departmental action has to be taken against them, whenever in future such case comes to the notice of the court.
Similarly, the court directed that the duly authorised/approved haj and umrah tour operators of the Ministry of Religious Affairs shall display on their offices, the authority letter/licence number, date of issue, the quota allotted and the amount chargeable by them, permitted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and they shall be further made liable to execute a guarantee/indemnity bond that they will publish a booklet/handbill, to be handed over to each applicant, desirous of performing haj and umrah, which shall contain all details of expenses, chargeable and all the facilities, to be provided to them during transit from Pakistan to KSA and within KSA while performing haj or umrah including transport, lodging, boarding, provision of food and other facilities required of them. The services of Nadra and PTA be availed to provide multiple UANs, cell phone and landlines facilities and public be informed to get verification and authentic information from the Ministry of Haj about every “Haj” and “Umrah” private operators including the amount of money chargeable.
Needful be done positively within two months and this campaign should be vigorously carried out at least three months before Haj season of the next year. Any fault or default/negligence on the part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony and those, to whom such information is conveyed by it, 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.