NEW DELHI: The police told the Delhi High Court on Tuesday that it has neither arrested nor detained anyone in the case lodged against members of Tablighi Jamaat for participating in the religious congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The court sought the response of Delhi Police and the AAP government on a plea seeking release of 916 foreign nationals, who participated in the event and are being held in institutional quarantine since March 30 despite having tested negative for COVID-19.
It was hearing a petition filed by 20 of the 916 foreigners who said the continued detention violates the very fabric of liberty.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar, conducting the hearing through video conferencing, was also informed that more than 900 foreign Tablighi Jamaat attendees, including the petitioners, have joined investigation of the case and were served notices under the CrPC.
Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra and advocate Chaitanya Gosain said the investigation is being conducted on a day-to-day basis and the police will file a charge sheet in the case before the concerned trial court within a week.
During the hearing, senior advocate Rebecca John and lawyer Ashima Mandla, appearing for the petitioners, urged that all foreign nationals who have tested negative for the virus be released from institutional quarantine to alternate accommodations, factoring social distancing.
The counsel said they will submit places of alternate accommodation during the day and the costs and expenditure of the alternate accommodation will be borne by the community .
They said the authorities will inspect the accommodation and will file a status report before the court which will hear the matter on Thursday.
The court also took on record two status reports filed by Delhi Police and the concerned SDM who said the Department of Revenue (Delhi) has not kept these foreign nationals under any type of custody and it is just looking after them and providing all possible facilities.
The police, in its status report, said the menace and hazard of COVID-19 viral infection during large gatherings was verbally conveyed to Maulana Mohd Saad and the management of Markaz on several occasions, including during meetings held in the police station in March in this regard.
"The meeting in the police station was taken by the SHO on March 24 and was attended by members of Tablighi Jamaat Markaz Management. However, Maulana Mohd Saad and the Markaz Management did not inform any Health Department or other government agency about the huge gathering inside the Markaz. They deliberately, willfully, negligently and malignantly disobeyed the lawful directions promulgated in this regard. Written notices were also issued to Maulana Mohd Saad and the Markaz Management. However, they refused to pay any heed. The premise was inspected by SDM/Defence Colony on various dates, between March 26 and 30," it said.
The report said around 1,300 devotees from various states as well as foreign countries were found residing in the premises without maintaining any social distancing and no one was seen following the directions such as use of facial mask and hand sanitisers to restrict the spread of the virus.
"Maulana Mohd Saad and others had allowed a huge gathering to assemble inside closed premises, over a protracted period of time, without any semblance of social distancing or provision of masks and sanitisers and have thereby caused a situation where a highly infectious disease such as Coronavirus (Covid-19) infection may spread and threaten the lives of the inmates and the general public at large," it said.
The petition has challenged a May 9 order of the Department of Revenue which had directed handing over of 567 foreign nationals, presently held in institutional quarantine, to the custody of Delhi Police after being tested negative for the virus.
Petitioners Mohammad Jamal and others said the order is ultra vires to the right to equality before law and right to life and liberty.
The plea said FIRs were lodged by Delhi Police in relation to the Markaz congregation against unknown persons.
After being exposed to a large gathering in March amid the COVID-19 or coronavirus lockdown many members of Tablighi Jamaat from Markaz Hazrat Nizamuddin were taken out by the authorities and lodged in different quarantine centres in Delhi.
Some of them were sent to the centres a few days later after being detained from various mosques.
In April, COVID-19 cases in Delhi spiked after hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members, who had attended the congregation, tested positive. The other members were directly taken to quarantine centres to contain the spread of COVID-19.