Biometric verification of Umrah pilgrims challenged in SHC

Saturday, November 4, 2017

KARACHI: The new condition of the collection of fingerprints for the biometric verification of people aspiring to perform Umrah, which has drawn nationwide criticism, was challenged in the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday.

An SHC division bench, headed by Justice Munib Akhtar, issued notices to the secretaries of the religious and foreign affairs ministries and others to file their replies by November 13  while hearing a petition challenging the new condition of biometric verification for Umrah pilgrims.

The petition was filed by a citizen, Rao Nasir, who nominated the secretaries of the religious and foreign affairs ministries among others as respondents.

In the petition, Nasir argued that a large number of people who wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the religious ritual had been inconvenienced by the new condition as they had to stand in queues for hours for their biometric verification, wasting their precious time and resources.

The petitioner also mentioned that the contract for collecting biometric fingerprints of the pilgrims had been given to a private company, which had an Indian national as one of its directors.

Nasir maintained that if it was necessary to electronically collect the pilgrims’ fingerprints, the task should have been given to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). The judges were informed that hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah every year, therefore, the respondent authorities should take steps to facilitate them.

The petitioner informed the court that due to the insufficient number of the fingerprint verification centres and lack of facilities at the existing centres, aspiring Umrah pilgrims were facing difficulties. Therefore, the court was pleaded to direct the respondents to reconsider the condition of collecting pilgrims’ fingerprints. In case the condition was necessary, the court was pleaded to direct the government to withdraw the contract from the Dubai-based private firm and assign the task to NADRA.

After hearing initial arguments, the bench issued notices to the respondents to file their replies by November 13. The deputy attorney-general was also issued a notice to file comments on behalf of the federal authorities by the next date.