Haj pilgrims are not consumers, can't claim refund: consumer court

Haj pilgrims are not consumers, can't claim refund: consumer court

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 31, 2017. Reuters file photo for representation.

Haj pilgrims are not consumers, the apex consumer commission has observed while denying relief to a man and his son who claimed refund for being provided lower category services by the Haj Committee of India in 2008 despite paying for a higher category.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) said that the Haj Committee renders services without any profit motive.

"It would thus be seen that the Haj Committee is rendering services without any profit motive and is collecting only the actual expenses incurred by it on making arrangements for the Haj pilgrimage," the commission said.

"No fee or service charges are being collected by Haj Committee of India from the pilgrims, for rendering its services to them. Therefore, the complainants cannot be said to be the consumer of the Haj Committee of India within the meaning of Section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act," the NCDRC said.

The apex consumer commission was hearing an appeal filed by the Haj Committee of India against the Rajasthan state commission order asking it to compensate Abbas Ali and his son Faiyaz Hussain, who had applied for the pilgrimage in 2008 and chose ‘Green Category’ which was a higher bracket for pilgrims.

They claimed that they had deposited Rs 96,940 each for the pilgrimage but when they reached Saudi Arabia, they were not accommodated in the green category and were kept in lower category - ‘Azizia'.

They approached the district forum seeking refund of Rs 22,362, the excess amount allegedly charged from them for green category, but their plea was dismissed.

The complainant then moved the state commission which allowed their appeal and directed refund along with compensation of Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000 as cost of litigation. The Haj committee challenged this order in NCDRC.

The committee claimed that the complainants had made reservations under the additional quota, and at the time of pilgrimage, the currency exchange rate of Riyal had gone high and it was not possible for the committee to accommodate them in a higher category for which less money was paid.

The apex consumer panel, while allowing the committee's appeal, noted that the guidelines given under the Haj Committee Act in 2002 say that the services of the Haj Committee of India are free of charge and do not come within the purview of Consumer Protection Act of 1986.

"Since the aforesaid guidelines are required to be signed by every applicant, the complainants themselves had agreed to the above referred position and accepted that they would not claim any compensation from Haj Committee under the Consumer Protection Act," the NCDRC said.

It, however, made it clear that the dismissal of the complaint by the consumer panel will not come in the way of the pilgrims to avail any other remedy as per in law, including approaching a civil court, for redressal of their grievances.