The Haj Committee Act 2002 – Overview
Author: Kabir Singh
Haj which is the annual pilgrimage paid by Muslims to their most holy site which is Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia. It is expected that all Muslims who are physically and mentally stable shall pay a visit to Mecca. India has a Haj committee dating back to the pre independent time where Haj committee was formed in the year 1932 to assist people in their pilgrimage and it was then that the port Haj committee constitution of Bombay and Calcutta was formed. In furtherance of this act which was then later repealed and it was on 17 December 1959 that the Haj committee Act 1959 was enacted to help the Muslims in India with their pilgrimage to countries in the Middle East and had its head office at the port of Bombay with twenty-one other embarkation points.
Haj Committee Act, 2002:
As the time passed by, there was an increase in the number of pilgrims for Haj and a need for better and stronger representation was felt. It was because of this that the Haj committee Act 2002 (no.35 of 2002) came into force which had a schedule indicating six zonal points covering all the states in India. It is mainly an Act which is for the establishment of a Haj committee of India and state Haj Committees in India to aid and assist Muslims in their pilgrimage to Mecca. It is an autonomous body which is under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India. The committee has its headquarters at Bombay and its association office in Delhi, while states have an office of their respective committee.
Duties of the Committee:
The section 3 of the Act talks about the incorporation and constitution of the Act while section 4 gives an insight of the composition of the committee as to who all are to be included which has members of parliament, members from different states, people having knowledge in distinct fields and members in a joint-secretary rank or above representing the ministries. The tenure specified for the committee is of three years. As soon as the committee is formed the same is published in the official gazette of the government and the tenure of the members start from that day itself. Amongst the members a Chairperson and two Vice Chairpersons are elected who have their assigned work.
The main duties listed under section 9 are:
(i) To collect and disseminate information useful to pilgrims, and to arrange orientation and training programmes for pilgrims;
(ii) To advise and assist pilgrims during their stay at the embarkation points in India, while proceeding to or returning from pilgrimage, in all matters including vaccination, inoculation, medical inspection, issue of pilgrim passes and foreign exchange and to liaise with the local authorities concerned in such matters;
(iii) To give relief to pilgrims in distress;
(iv) To finalise the annual Haj plan with the approval of the Central Government, and execute the plan, including the arrangements for travel by air or any other means, and to advise in matters relating to accommodations;
(v) To approve the budget estimates of the Committee and submit it to the Central Government
(vi) To co-ordinate with the Central Government, railways, airways and travel agencies for the purpose of securing travelling facilities for pilgrims;
(vii) To generally look after the welfare of the pilgrims;
Disqualification of members:
The committee is to meet thrice a year but may have a meeting if desired by one third of the members or the Chairperson. A majority of votes is required for decision making. Standing Committees presided by the Vice Chairperson and further sub-Committees are made for finance and Haj arrangements. Section 12 of the Act provides grounds for the disqualification of members who are not being an Indian citizen, non -Muslim, below 25 years of age, of unsound mind, undischarged insolvent or convicted of a crime.
While if any of the member wishes to resign the same, that has to be intimidated to the Central Government and from the day itself the resignation is recognized. Also, the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson can be stripped of their duties in case of any incapability in the discharge of their duties or of any provision under section 12 of the Act. If due to any circumstances there is a vacancy, then the member who is elected stays in office only for the remaining time period.
State Haj Committees:
Lastly a chief executive officer is appointed up by the central government who is from the panel of Muslim officers of the Central Government and of the State Governments not below the rank of Deputy Secretary to the Government of India who acts as the ex officio secretary of the committee and has his set of duties which he needs to discharge. The duties and other provisions for the state Haj Committees are similar to those of the Haj committee of India while the only difference is in the composition of the committee as it also includes members from state legislative assembly, legislative council, Chairperson of the state Wakf board and members representing the local bodies. Twice the haj committee has to meet compulsorily in an year. Other than this both the centre and the state Committees have to maintain their funds through which all the expenses including salaries are met with and an annual audit is carried out of these accounts. The committee is also responsible for issuing pilgrimage passes. Although people can bring up their grievances regarding their pilgrimage but is given indemnity. If the committee is unable to perform their function the centre takes hold of it.
By performing all these functions, the Haj Committees are able to provide pilgrims a subsidy in their pilgrimage and many Muslims are able to go for their pilgrimage. in recent light of the pandemic the applications for haj dropped by 77% as there was an increase of 50% in the cost of haj to make arrangements for the covid precautions. Special guidelines were issued by the haj committee regarding the applications and pilgrimage was held under special circumstances.
 The Haj Committee Act, 2002