NEW DELHI: A year after Tabligh-e-Jamaat's Markaz in Nizamuddin West came under criticism for holding a religious congregation amid the COVID-19 outbreak, its cleric Maulana Saad Kandhalvi against whom an FIR was registered in connection with the incident is yet to join the probe despite several notices by Delhi Police.
The meet in March 2020 was attended by thousands of Jamaat members from different states, along with hundreds of foreigners.
After several of them tested positive for the infection, a nationwide search operation was carried out by respective state governments to locate and quarantine them on the direction of the Centre.
Taking action against the organisers of the congregation, Delhi Police's Crime Branch on March 31, 2020 lodged an FIR against seven people, including Kandhalvi, on a complaint by Station House Officer Nizamuddin under sections of the Epidemic Diseases Act, Disaster Management Act (2005), Foreigners Act and other relevant sections of Indian Penal Code.
Kandhalvi was later booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder after some of the attendees of the congregation died due to coronavirus.
According to the police, Kandhalvi is yet to join the probe despite several notices issued to him by the investigators but statements of his sons and office-bearers of the Markaz were recorded in connection with the case.
Most of the forensic reports of documents and electronic devices seized from the centre have been received while a few is still awaited, a senior police officer said.
However, in December last year, a Delhi court acquitted 36 foreigners, who were listed in a charge sheet for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation by allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government guidelines issued in wake of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Arun Kumar Garg had said the prosecution failed to prove the presence of the accused at the Nizamuddin Markaz premises from March 12 to April 1.
According to the list of evacuees, none of the accused had COVID-19 symptoms and hence, there was no question of any negligent act on their part, the court had said in its order.
Apart from them, FIRs were also filed against those Indian nationals who housed the attendees of the congregation.
Two among them - Feroz Siddique and Rizwan - along with six others moved court seeking quashing of the FIRs against them in connection with the event.
Delhi Police said till date, it has filed 48 charge sheets and 11 supplementary charge sheets against 956 foreign nationals from 36 countries.
According to the charge sheets, all the foreigners were booked for violating visa rules, violating government guidelines issued in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and regulations regarding Epidemic diseases Act, Disaster Management Act and prohibitory orders under section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure and other relevant sections of Indian Penal Code.
The Centre had cancelled their visas and blacklisted them.
At least 9,000 people participated in the Nizamuddin congregation.
Later, many of them travelled to various parts of the country.
Tablighi Jamaat workers, both foreigners as well Indians, indulge in preaching tours or 'chilla' across the country throughout the year.
Various nationals, particularly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan come for Tablighi activities.
All such foreign nationals report their arrival at Tablighi Markaz at Banglewali Mosque in Hazrat Nizamuddin, Delhi and then they are detailed for 'chilla' activities to different parts of the country, according to the home ministry.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had slammed the organisers of the 2020 gathering saying it was "highly irresponsible" on their part to hold such an event at a time when thousands died in other countries due to the pandemic.
However, the Markaz in a statement had then said it has not violated any provision of law and offered its premises for setting up quarantine facility.
It said when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 'janta curfew' on March 22, the ongoing programme was discontinued immediately, but a large number of people were stuck in the premises due to the closure of railway services on March 21.
On the evening of March 23, the prime minister had announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown, the statement had mentioned and further added there was no option for Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions.
The administration and police were also criticised by the residents of the area of not heeding their complaints about a large number of people converging at the Markaz amid the coronavirus pandemic.