The Bombay High Court has quashed a first information report and chargesheet filed against eight Myanmar nationals who attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin area of Delhi during the coronavirus-induced lockdown in March, Live Law reported on Thursday. The court said there was no evidence to show they indulged in any act, which was likely to spread the infection.
Some sections of the media had linked the congregation to a rise in the spread of the coronavirus cases. The court’s order was passed on Monday, the same day the Centre informed the Rajya Sabha that the gathering led to a spurt in cases.
A bench of Justices VM Deshpande and Justice Amit B Borkar said prosecuting the eight Myanmar nationals would be nothing but an “abuse of the process of the court” due to lack of evidence to support the charges levelled against the foreigners. “It is also not disputed that they were kept in isolation from 24.03.2020 till 31.03.2020 under the supervision of Dr Khawaj, NMC Zonal Officer, Mominpura, Nagpur,” the court said. “There is no material on record to prove that applicants had indulged in any act which was likely to spread infection of Covid-19.”
The judges, citing witness statements, said that eight Myanmar nationals only read the Quran and offered prayers at a local mosque. “Since the applicants were not conversant with the local language, they studied Quran and Hadis in their language,” the order said. “From the material produced in the chargesheet, except the statement of the witnesses referred above, there is no other material produced by the prosecution to prove ingredients of contravention of Section 14 of the Foreigners Act.”
The judges also pointed out that the foreigners tested negative for Covid-19 during their quarantine period from April 3, adding that there was no question of spreading the disease under Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code.
There are no restrictions on foreigners from attending religious gatherings in India under the conditions of Tourist Visa and therefore they did not violate Section 14 of the Foreigners Act, the court said. “The investigating authorities acted without jurisdiction in registering the FIR under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code based on a complaint of the police,” it added. “The investigation conducted by the police was also without jurisdiction.”
All the eight Myanmar nationals obtained Tourist Visa on arrival from Kolkata Airport to visit India and to attend religious seminars in the country. They landed in Delhi on March 2 and stayed in the city till March 5. After this, they reached Nagpur on March 6 and their entire schedule of activities was submitted to the police station in Gittikhadan. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “janta curfew” on March 22, the foreigners were shifted to a center and the same was conveyed to the police. However, they did not receive any acknowledgement.
Last month, the Bombay High Court quashed three FIRs against 35 petitioners – 29 of them foreign nationals – who attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation and travelled from there to different parts of India. The court had said in its judgement that the foreigners had been made “scapegoats” and that the action against them was an “indirect warning to Indian Muslims” after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
A division bench of Justices TV Nalawade and MG Sewlikar of the Aurangabad bench had also criticised the role of the media in the matter. “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading Covid-19 virus in India,” the order said. “There was virtually persecution against these foreigners.”