On September 13, the Delhi Police has submitted an affidavit in the Delhi High Court duly authorised by the Home Ministry in which it has opposed the reopening of Nizamuddin Markaz for public entry, stating it is part of an ongoing investigation. The affidavit stated that the cases registered last year have ‘cross-border implications’ involving diplomatic considerations.
Delhi Waqf Board had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking orders to reopen Nizamuddin Markaz and restore its original character. The court had asked the Centre and Delhi Police to submit a reply to the plea. Notably, last year, the Tablighi Jamaat congregation took place at the Markaz despite Covid-19 protocols in place. The structure was sealed by the Delhi Police on March 31 last year.
In the reply, the centre said, “The present premises has been kept under lock and key in view of the fact that the organisers of Markaz and the masjid are under investigation in an FIR… and the said case is under investigation wherein notices have already been served seeking details of plot/plots related to Masjid Banglewali Markaz, Kashif-ul-Uloom madarsa, Basti Nizamuddin to provide ownership documents etc.”
The affidavit further reads, “It is submitted that since about 1300 foreigners were found to be residing in the said premises and cases against them have cross border implications and involves nation’s diplomatic relationship with other countries, it is necessary and incumbent on the part of the Respondent to preserve the said premises for the purpose of Section 310 of CrPC”.
The said section gives the judge the power to visit any place where an offence took place for the purpose of appreciating the evidence. DCP Joy Tirkey, the signatory in the affidavit, emphasised the importance of the preservation of the case property so that the due process of the law can be followed.
It further read, “As such the reasonable restriction which has been imposed on the petitioner’s right if any under Article 26 of the Constitution of India is on the ground that the said premises were not being used in accordance with law and on public order considerations and therefore cannot be faulted or held to be violative of Part III of the Constitution of India. It is submitted that in view of the aforesaid, in the respectful submission of the deponent, there has been no impingement of petitioner’s fundamental right under Article 26. The same has been curtailed for a short duration on public order considerations and therefore cannot be said to be ultra vires the constitution.”
Notably, five people have been allowed to offer namaz five times a day on the premises. The Delhi Police said there is no violation of any fundamental right of the Waqf Board or anyone related to the Markaz or the case.
The court has posted the matter for November and asked Delhi Police the timeline by which it intends to release the property. The court said, “Due to the pandemic, an FIR was registered… (and) you take possession as case property. It has to be handed over. It can’t be that the property is kept forever (subject to court orders)… You tell me from whom you took it. How long will you keep it locked as case property?”
The Nizamuddin Markaz controversy
In March 2020, hundreds of people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz tested positive for coronavirus. Reportedly, thousands of people had travelled to attend the event from various states. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were 1746 people living in Markaz, including 216 foreign nationals. The Delhi government said that the congregation violated the Covid-19 protocols in place that prohibited large gatherings.
Countering the allegations, Markaz claimed that they had not flouted any rules and ended the congregation when the nationwide lockdown was imposed. It alleged that several of the participants were stuck as no mode of transport was available.
From the Markaz, Tablighi Jamaat members travelled all over India, often hiding their travel details and avoiding quarantine. Those members that were caught and sent to institutional quarantine centres, were found misbehaving with healthcare staff and creating a nuisance.
On March 31 last year, Delhi Police registered a case against the officials of the Markaz, including Maulana Saad, under sections of Epidemic Disease Act,1897 and Section 269, 270, 271, and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code. By April 3, 2020, 30% of the Covid cases in India were reportedly linked to the congregation that took place at the Markaz.