The Delhi High Court on Friday criticised the Centre for failing to file a response to a petition seeking reopening of the Nizamuddin Markaz mosque in Delhi, reported Live Law.

The Nizamuddin Markaz has been closed since March 31 last year. A Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place at the venue was blamed for thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the nationwide lockdown which began on March 25, 2020. The event had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech.

The Delhi Waqf Board had filed a petition in February, seeking permission to open the premises. A single-judge bench of Justice Mukta Gupta observed on Friday that the Centre has not filed its response in the case since the plea was moved.

“You want to file a response or you don’t want to file one? the court remarked. “On day one, time was sought for filing reply but nothing has been filed till date.”

The court listed the matter for next hearing on September 13 after the Centre’s counsel sought more time to file an affidavit.

In its petition, the Delhi Waqf Board said that that the Centre had allowed reopening of religious places from June 8 last year, but the mosque remained closed as the Hazrat Nizamuddin locality was one of the containment zones. However, even after the area was removed from the list of containment zones in September, the Nizamuddin Markaz was not allowed to open.

“...Instead of following a primitive method of keeping the entire premises under lock as an out of bound area, a modern or scientific method should be adopted by the Delhi Police and government to ensure minimum interference with religious rights,” the Waqf Board said, according to Live Law.

In April, the Centre informed the court that the mosque could not be opened, citing restrictions imposed by the Delhi Disaster Management on gatherings and congregations. The Delhi Waqf Board had then sought permission for devotees to pray at the mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.

The court, however, allowed 50 devotees to offer prayers five times a day following coronavirus-related protocols.

Action against Tablighi Jamaat members

After the religious congregation, the Centre in June blacklisted over 2,500 Tablighi members and prohibited their entry into the country for 10 years. The action was taken after several state governments submitted information on those who had been accused of illegally living in mosques and seminaries.

Several cases were filed against people who attended the congregation for reasons such as allegedly disobeying the government’s Covid guidelines or violating the conditions of their visa. But courts have quashed most of the FIRs and acquitted the members. The Bombay High Court noted in August that foreign nationals had been made scapegoats.

The Supreme Court also criticised the media coverage of the matter, and pulled up the government for not placing curbs on television programmes.

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‘Unjust and unfair’: What three High Courts said about the arrests of Tablighi Jamaat members