Police in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, have asked companies working in the city’s industrial hub to ensure their employees do not offer namaz in parks, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday. Companies will be held liable if their employees continue to do so, a notice sent by the police warned.

“We want to inform you that there is no permission from the administration to conduct any kind of religious activity including namaz offered on Friday in the Authority park in Sector 58,” the notice issued last week said. The notice was first sent from the Sector 58 police station.

“It has been often seen that the Muslim workers of your company assemble in the park to offer namaz and I, the SHO [police station house officer], have told the group to not hold prayers in the park,” the notice said. “Also, their plea to the city magistrate has not received any permission to do so.”

“Thus, it is expected from you that you at your level inform your Muslim employees to not come to the park to offer namaz,” the notice said further. “If employees of your company come to the park, it will be assumed that you have not informed your employees and your company will be held liable.”

The companies in the area have reportedly sought a meeting with senior Noida police officials for clarifications on the notice.

The police defended the move citing communal concerns, especially ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Pankaj Rai, the station house officer in Sector 58 confirmed to The Indian Express that they sent the notices following complaints about “a large number of people offering namaz in the afternoon, especially on Fridays”.

“Since most people offering prayers are employees in companies nearby, we have sent notices to those companies to ask their employees to either offer namaz in a mosque, Eidgah or within the office compound, on the roof, etc,” Rai said. “Earlier only around 10-15 people assembled in the parks to offer Friday prayers and there were no complaints regarding that. Over the last couple of weeks, around 500-600 people assembled in the afternoon to offer namaz and we got several complaints regarding such assembly of people in the public park.”

Rai added that several of the attendees were not employees of the companies in the area. “So, what is happening is that seeing people assembling for namaz, others are also assembling,” he said. “The elections are approaching and there is some concern on that front too, as it may lead to some disharmony.”

Noida Senior Superintendent of Police Ajay Pal Sharma told ANI that the notice was not specific to a particular region.

He claimed that the police had no bad intentions, the Hindustan Times reported. “As per the Supreme Court order in 2009, to hold any religious ceremony in public place, it is essential to seek permission from the police and administration,” Sharma said.

Since there is no such permission, the namaz cannot be held, he added. Sharma denied that the notice was discriminatory against the Muslim community.