The Delhi high court Friday granted two weeks to Central government to file its reply to plea by Delhi Waqf Board to open the Nizamuddin Markaz where the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was locked since March 31 last year. Justice Mukta Gupta said that till date, Centre had not filed any reply on merit and asked if it intended to file any reply at all.
"Do you want to file or not? On day one you took time to file reply affidavit," the judge observed and clarified that an earlier status report filed by the Centre was only with respect to the opening of the Markaz for the month of Ramzan. Advocate Rajat Nair, appearing for Centre, sought one more opportunity from court and said that he would file a short reply to the petition. The court granted three weeks' to the Board to file its rejoinder to the reply. The matter was listed for further hearing on September 13. On April 15, the court had allowed 50 people to offer namaz five times a day at Nizamuddin Markaz during Ramzan, saying there is no direction in the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) notification to close down places of worship.
The court allowed namaz to be offered on "first floor above the basement" of the mosque, making clear that it has to be "strictly in accordance" with the DDMA's April 10 notification and other standard operating protocols. In a status report filed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police Sub Division Lajpat Nagar, the central government had said the court "in its wisdom and discretion" may permit such persons as it deems fit and proper to perform namaz only on the ground floor of the mosque at the Nizamuddin Markaz by strictly following all COVID-19 related protocols.
Without specifying whether all places of worship were closed, as was sought by the high court, the report said the DDMA notification prohibiting all kinds of gathering in the wake of increasing COVID-19 cases was applicable to all religions. The board, in its plea filed through advocate Wajeeh Shafiq, contended that even after unlock-1 guidelines permitted religious places outside containment zones to be opened, the markaz — comprising the Masjid Bangley Wali, Madarsa Kashif-ul-uloom and attached hostel — continues to be locked up.
It has further contended that even if the premises was part of any criminal investigation or trial, keeping it "under lock as an out of bound area" was a "primitive method" of enquiry process. Several FIRs have been registered under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Disaster Management Act, Foreigners Act and various provisions of the penal code in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat event held at the markaz and the subsequent stay of foreigners there during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.