The Delhi High Court Monday sought to know from the Delhi Police that was there any prohibition on Indian nationals from housing attendees of last year's Tablighi Jamaat congregation who entered the country on a valid visa when there were no Covid-19 related restrictions. The high court sought an affidavit from the Delhi Police if there was any prohibition on Indian nationals from providing accommodation to foreign nationals when the lockdown was imposed.
It also pulled up the investigating agency for not being able to state the specific date on which the Jamaat attendees sought refuge at the petitioners’ premises. Justice Mukta Gupta, who was hearing a batch of petitions to quash the FIRs registered against the hosts, said she would pass appropriate orders after the material is placed before the court.
While some of the pleas for quashing of FIRs are by individuals who had provided refuge to the foreigners who had attended the event and could not travel owing to the subsequent lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid-19, others are by persons like managing committee members or caretakers of different mosques, who have been accused of providing housing facilities to the foreign nationals in the masjids under the jurisdiction of Chandni Mahal police station.
FIRs were registered for the alleged commission of offences under Section 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection), and other offences under the Indian Penal Code. The prosecutor told the court that when the police went to the spot, the locals did not inform about the date on which the attendees came to reside in the premises in question. Then your officers don't deserve to be IOs (investigating officers), responded the court which observed that the police could have checked the passport entries of the foreign nationals and their call record data to ascertain their location.
The court added that filing half-baked things before it would not work and asserted that police has to show that after lockdown, they (attendees) were moving here and there. They came under valid visa. They were staying there then you can't say they were violating these provisions, it stated. Counsel for the petitioners claimed that the investigating agency has not specified the date of entry into the premises in the FIR or the charge sheet. The lawyer informed that the crime branch of Delhi police had also registered an FIR concerning the Nizamuddin Markaz against its organisers for the alleged violation of certain provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Epidemic Diseases Act, etc. The court directed the concerned DCP to file an affidavit disclosing if any of the petitioners are also accused in the crime branch FIR. The affidavit of DCP will also indicate as to whether there was any prohibition for any Indian national to keep a foreigner at his residence who had come to India on a valid passport and visa at the relevant time," the court said.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on January 4 and asked that the police status reports in the matter be brought on record. In their plea filed through advocates Ashima Mandla and Mandakini Singh, two petitioners — Feroz and Rizwan, who had each provided accommodation to four women Tablighi attendees, have contended that shelter was given to them as they had nowhere to go during the lockdown. They and other petitioners have also contended that there is no documentation on record in either the FIR or charge sheet to indicate that they had been infected by Covid-19 and therefore, they could not have been accused of spreading the disease under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
In his petition, Rizwan has alleged that the instant case is a classic example of case wherein unsubstantiated allegations have been embellished and exaggerated. Earlier, the court had asked Delhi police to file a status report indicating the role of each accused and as well as the duration of their stay and whether the housing facility was given after or before the prohibitory orders issued by the authorities given Covid-19.
On the last occasion, the court had questioned the Delhi police as to what offence was committed by the Indian nationals when they housed foreigners, who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation last year, during a nationwide lockdown and observed that the government notification did not impose any bar on persons residing at any particular place.