The Maharashtra government last month withdrew permission for a Tablighi Jamaat congregation scheduled for March 12 and March 13 as the Covid-19 crisis began to escalate in the state, The Indian Express reported on Friday. The event was scheduled around the same time as a similar one in Delhi, where thousands of workers of the outfit, including foreigners, gathered, only to return home with Covid-19 infections.

India now has 2,301 patients of the fast-spreading disease. Hundreds of these have been linked to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place in Delhi. Seven people – one from Kashmir and six from Telangana – died of Covid-19 in the days following the congregation in Delhi.

The event in Maharashtra, with 50,000 participants expected, was scheduled in Vasai, 50 km from Mumbai. The state government had given permission for it on February 6, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh told The Indian Express. However, the government withdrew permission on March 6, four days after Maharashtra reported its first two Covid-19 cases.

The organisers initially said they would go ahead with the event, but then the state government warned them of legal action if they did, Deshmukh claimed.

Maharashtra now has the highest number of Covid-19 patients as well as deaths.

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Konkan range Inspector General of Police Niket Kaushik told The Indian Express that the permission was revoked as the government felt it would not be wise to let so many people gather in one place when the coronavirus was spreading.

An unidentified Tablighi Jamaat member told the newspaper that they had planned to take the event to several parts of the state after the two-day congregation in Vasai. “We approached Health Minister Rajesh Tope and told him that a large congregation was expected,” the member said. “He asked us to postpone it. Considering the circumstances, we also decided to cancel it. We informed everyone not to congregate here.”

“If the Home Ministry in Delhi could have shown such farsightedness and quicker reflexes, it would have helped avert both the spread of infection and its massive humanitarian fallout,” Deshmukh said, according to News18.

The Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic evangelical organisation present in several countries, has its headquarters at the Banglewali Masjid Markaz in Nizamuddin locality of Delhi. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, workers of the Tablighi Jamaat – foreigners as well as Indians – conduct the group’s activities across India throughout the year. They first normally report at the headquarters in Nizamuddin, and then go to different parts of the country.

As reported previously, thousands of workers attended a conference on March 9 and 10 at the Markaz. Hundreds of foreigners from South East Asia, South Asia, Europe had arrived in Delhi in the weeks before this.

On March 12, the Delhi government had asked those with Covid-19 symptoms who had travelled to affected countries in the previous 14 days to report to officials. The next day, the Delhi government banned gatherings of more than 200 people, and on March 16, limited the size of gatherings to 50 persons. However, thousands remained in the Markaz, and over 2,300 of them were evacuated last week as the link between the congregation and Covid-19 cases across the country was established.

As of Thursday, about 9,000 Tablighi Jamaat members and their primary contacts who attended the event at the Nizamuddin Markaz have been quarantined, according to the home ministry.