The Centre on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that it has amended its Haj policy and differently-abled people are no longer barred from performing the annual pilgrimage. The submission was made before a bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice I S Mehta, which was also told that only people with serious illnesses, like cancer or tuberculosis, are barred from the pilgrimage. Central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul, appearing for the Ministry of Minority Affairs, told the court that the Haj Committee of India (HCOI) has "unanimously decided to allow persons with special needs to apply" for the pilgrimage under the general category. Digpaul said on selection, such a person with special needs can perform Haj if he or she can undertake the journey on their own or else they may be accompanied by an able-bodied person who will have to be a blood relation and will take responsibility of the differently-abled individual during the pilgrimage.
The central government lawyer also placed before the bench an affidavit giving details of the changes made in the new Haj policy for 2018-22 by the HCOI. The amended policy has made it clear that "physical disability of a person will not be construed as an adverse physical health". The amended policy states that "those with severe medical conditions such as terminal cancers, advanced cardiac, respiratory, liver or kidney diseases, infectious tuberculosis disease or senility" cannot apply for the pilgrimage. Earlier the provision also barred persons with disabilities or special needs. The affidavit was filed in response to a PIL by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal seeking quashing of the provisions in the Haj policy that barred differently-abled persons from undertaking the annual Haj pilgrimage. Taking note of the submissions made on affidavit, the bench said the issue raised in the plea has been addressed and the petition has become "infructuous". The court disposed of the plea, but granted liberty to Bansal to challenge the amended policy if he was aggrieved by it.
The petition had said that some provisions of the policy violated Articles 14, 21 and 25 of the Constitution, pertaining to equality and freedom to practice religion. Earlier, the ministry had told the court that bar on differently-abled people from undertaking Haj was retained in the new policy as was the practice for the past 30 years, since the journey is physically demanding. The purpose was also to strictly screen the disabled due to instances of them indulging in begging, which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, it had further said. The unamended policy guidelines under the 'eligibility for Haj' had mentioned that any Indian citizen who is a Muslim can apply for the pilgrimage, except those "who do not have the mental or physical health to perform the pilgrimage, persons whose legs are amputated, who are crippled, handicapped, lunatic or otherwise physically/mentally incapacitated".