New Delhi: Even as the Delhi government sought to lodge a first information report (FIR) against the Tablighi Jamaat for allegedly violating coronavirus guidelines, the Muslim group refuted the charges saying it complied with the norms by stopping any gathering besides informing the authorities about the preachers trapped inside due to lockdown.
After several people who had attended an ‘ijtema’ (congregation) organised by the Tablighi Jamaat at its markaz (headquarters) in Nizamuddin West on March 15 developed symptoms of COVID-19 infection, they were rushed to Delhi government’s hospitals on the intervening night of March 29-30 and even later. The government said their screenings were being conducted.
The congregation was attended by people from Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia. While six men from Telangana, who attended the congregation died in Telangana on March 15, a visitor died last week in Srinagar. Before coming to Delhi, the deceased had also gone to the Deoband seminary in Uttar Pradesh.
According to Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain, 24 attendees were tested positive, 700 were quarantined in Nizamuddin West area and at least 335 admitted in hospitals.
IS MORALITY RESPONSIBLE WHERE LEGALITY FAILS?
However, documents accessed by Newsclick suggest serious lapses on the part of the city administration. Following the sudden lockdown announcement on March 24, the markaz administration, in a press release, said it had sent out an execution report to the Nizamuddin Police Station, informing them that 1,500 people, who were present in the headquarters, were sent back. Over 1,000 people were still at the premises and unable to leave in absence of required vehicles’ passes and cancellation of trains, it said.
The markaz administration also claimed it contacted the SDM the same day and got an appointment for the next day. They were given an appointment on March 25 at 11 a.m. It said no urgency was exhibited from SDM’s side.
The markaz also urged the SHO to expedite the matter so that the people who were stranded could be sent back to their respective states.
“With respect to your letter D.O. No. 293 dated March 24, 2020, it is to inform you that we are trying our best to comply with your directions to shut down the markaz. On March 23, 2020, we have already vacated more than 1,500 people. We still have more than 1,000 people of different states in the markaz. As per your direction, we contacted respected SDM for vehicle pass so that we can send the remaining people to their respective places. The SDM office has given time for meeting at 11 a.m. on March 25, 2020. You are therefore requested to kindly approach the SDM for early action. We are ready to comply all your directions,” reads the application dated March 25 signed by one Maulana Yousuf, seen by Newsclick.
A list of 17 vehicles with their registration number and drivers’ names and licence numbers were annexed with the application, said the press release.
Despite the compliance report-cum-application already sent to the SHO, Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station, a letter dated March 28 was sent out by Atul Kumar, assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Lajpat Nagar, saying the “order has not been properly acted upon”. He asked the markaz administration to consider the unprecedented and emergent situation. A warning was sent out of legal action under Epidemic Diseases Act 1957.
“Apropos letter number 293-SHO/Hazrat Nizamuddin dated March 23, 2020 received from the office of SHO/Hazrat Nizamuddin wherein it is informed that despite the orders of the Government of India of complete lock-down, orders in this regard issued by the Government of NCT of Delhi and also prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 Cr.P.C. which have been duly promulgated, including the office of undersigned, many persons have gathered at Markaz, Nizamuddin. It has been impressed upon by different authorities in their order that gathering of over four (4) persons is prohibited.”
“You have been directed to comply the aforesaid lawful order but the same has been properly acted upon and has not been properly complied. Considering the unprecedented and emergent situation, you are thereby once again directed to follow lawful directions in letter and its spirit in order to interest of public at large, failing which legal actions under Section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1957 and other legal provisions, including sections 188/269/270 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) shall be initiated,” read the letter listing out six directions such as ensuring social distancing of at least six feet, quarantining and keeping in complete isolation those who feeling of cold, cough and fever and immediately informing concerned SDM and medical authorities about the same, educating the inmates to wash their hands with soaps on regular intervals, making arrangements of sanitisers and face masks for the inmates and following the directions issued by the Delhi government and public officers.
The letter was replied by the markaz administration on March 29 where in it was stated that ‘Tableegh Markaz’ i.e. Bangle Wali Masjid, Hazrat Nizamuddin, New Delhi, being “international centre” of Tablighi Jamaat is “always and all time occupied and crowded by several persons from our country as well as by our foreign residents”.
“The same was the position at the time of issuance of various prohibitory lock-down orders of the Central and state governments and also from your good self’s office in view of the coronavirus worldwide epidemic,” reads the letter, which countering the allegation of gathering in the headquarter despite lock-down states that “...the question of gathering of many persons despite the prohibitory-lockdown orders does not arise at all as these persons were already there inside the markaz before and at the time of the promulgation of prohibitory-lockdown orders and no fresh person was allowed to enter and gather at the markaz because all the doors were immediately closed after the lockdown orders”.
The markaz claimed that it complied the “Janta Curfew” on March 22 announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It further said that the markaz was “mostly vacated” on March 23. “Further efforts to decongest and vacate the markaz premises had to be stopped midway due to extended lockdown with effect from 12 night on March 23 for the next 21 days wherein the Honourable Prime Minister had directed and advised the public to remain confined on the spot where he is. Therefore, several Indian and foreign Tablighi volunteers remained confined and isolated inside the markaz,” read the letter written to the ACP.
When contacted, the SDM and the ACP refused to comment on the entire episode.
THE MARKAZ’S RESPONSE
In a press statement released on Tuesday, the markaz said visitors, guests, devotees, worshippers from across the globe throng the place for pre-scheduled programmes lasting for no more than three-five days. All the programmes are decided a year in advance in order to facilitate visitors from far-off places to plan their participation, it added.
It said that when Prime Minister Modi announced the ‘Janta Curfew’ for March 22, the ongoing programme was discontinued immediately; however, due to sudden suspension of rail services across the country on 21st March 2020, a large group of visitors who had to depart by way of railways got stuck in the markaz premises.
The release went on to add that on March 22, ‘Janta Curfew’ was observed and accordingly visitors were advised not to venture out until 9 p.m as desired by the Prime Minister.
“Therefore, the plans of people to move back to their native places by way of means other than railways also did not materialise. Before the ‘Janta Curfew’ could be lifted at 9 pm, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced complete lock-down of the city, beginning at 6 am on March 23, till March 31, thereby further diminishing any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home. Despite this challenging situation, with the help of the markaz administration, around 1,500 visitors left the Nizamuddin headquarters by availing whatever meagre transport was available,” the statement added.
The markaz said thereafter, on March 23 evening, a further nationwide lockdown was suddenly announced by the Prime Minister, with a clear message for people to stay wherever they are.
“Under such compelling circumstances, there was no option for the Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions till such time that situation becomes conducive for their movement or arrangements are made by the authorities” the release added.
“On 24th March 2020, suddenly a notice was issued by the SHO, Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station, seeking closure of markaz premises. The same was responded on March 24, stating that the compliance of the directions regarding closure of the markaz is already underway and around 1,500 people had departed the previous day, thus leaving around 1,000 visitors belonging to different states and nationalities in the markaz,” it said, further clarifying its position.
“It was also informed that the SDM concerned had been requested to issue vehicle passes so that the remaining people could be sent back to their native places outside of Delhi. It is relevant to indicate here that lists of 17 vehicles with registration numbers along with the names of the drivers plus their license details were submitted to the SDM so that the stranded visitors/guests could be ferried towards their destination. The requisite permission is still awaited,” it added.
The markaz claimed that on March 25, the Tehsildaar along with a medical team visited and got “full cooperation” for their inspection and preparation of a list of visitors, many of whom were examined by them.
“On March 26, the SDM visited Markaz Nizamuddin and called us for a further meeting with the District Magistrate. We met the DM, apprised him of the stranded visitors and once again sought permission for the vehicles arranged by us,”
The next day (March 27), six persons were taken for medical check-up. On March 28, the SDM and a team of the World Health Organisation (WHO) visited the markaz and 33 people were taken for medical check-up to Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital, the release added.
“Surprisingly, on the same day, another notice was issued. This time by the Office of the ACP, Lajpat Nagar, reiterating the prohibitory orders and warning of legal action, this being totally oblivious of the above deliberations and steps that had already been taken by Markaz Nizamuddin in consultation with the authorities. However, the same was replied in detail vide letter dated March 29” the release said.
The markaz said after rumours started gaining ground on Monday across the social media that COVID-19 infected people were present in the markaz and certain deaths had occurred due to the same, the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwwal, as per ANI, said he had directed the authorities to take legal action against the administration of the markaz.
“If the above fact-check would have been done by the Office of the Chief Minister, the authorities would have apprised him about their visits, deliberations and cooperation extended by the markaz in order to disperse the remaining visitors,” the release said.
The Markaz Nizamuddin claimed that during this entire episode, it had “never violated any provision of law and always tried to act with compassion and reason towards the visitors who came to Delhi from different states. It did not let them violate the medical guidelines by thronging ISBTs or roaming on streets.”
It also offered its entire premises as a quarantine facility to help the authorities tide-over the challenge of the current pandemic, adding that throughout its 100-year existence, it had an “unblemished history” of cooperating with administration/authorities and always upholding the rule of law in letter and spirit.
It be noted that in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Section 144 of CrPC was imposed in Delhi with effect from 9 p.m on March 22 to 12 midnight of March 31.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had said that no gathering of more than five people would be allowed.
The Tablighi Jamaat claimed it had already vacated 1,500 people. And they could not move the rest over 1,000 people because a complete shutdown was announced on March 24 and that they were assisted by the district administration in de-congestion.
On March 5, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued an advisory, asking people to avoid mass gathering and stay indoors. But on March 13, the government refused to call it a “medical emergency” despite the fact that the number of positive cases had risen to 81.
The Vaishno Devi pilgrimage, which is a much larger gathering, was stopped on March 18. The fact is that when the Tablighi Jamaat’s congregation happened on March 15, Parliament was in session. Madhya Pradesh MLAs were herded together in Bangalore. Several mass gatherings, some of them were political, had been organised.
Several video footages also emerged of people defying the ‘Janta Curfew’ and coming out on roads in large numbers to clap and clang utensils on the call of the Prime Minister.
In fact, the Congress has also questioned how UP chief minister Adityanath could defy the countrywide 21-day lockdown the very next day by landing up in Ayodhya with a huge crowd.