The Supreme Court on Thursday cited a gathering at Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Delhi in March that was blamed for a jump in Covid-19 infections and asked the Centre what guidelines were in place to prevent a similar situation at the farmer protest sites. It issued a notice seeking the Centre’s reply within two weeks.
“This same problem is going to arise during the farmer protest. We do not know if farmers are being protected from Covid. What guidelines have you issued for prevention of such things,” a three-judge bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. “Have you learnt from your experience in handling this [Jamaat] event? Have you found out how it happened?”
Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, told the bench that the investigation into the Jamaat gathering was still on. He added Covid-19 guidelines with regard to large gatherings were in place and sought two weeks to file a reply.
Farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders against the three farm laws enacted in September to liberalize the sector. They say the reforms will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
The bench was hearing public interest litigation by Jammu-based lawyer Supriya Pandita for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the Jamaat gathering. The petition underlined the need for guidelines to prevent such events from creating harm to public health at the time of the pandemic.
Pandita’s lawyer, OP Parihar, cited the Jamaat gathering and added the group’s chief Maulana Saad has not been arrested yet.
The bench said it is not interested in one person. “We are interested in ensuring Covid guidelines are prepared and implemented.”
A Delhi court last month acquitted 36 foreign nationals accused of violating Covid-19 protocol by attending the Jamaat event, saying the prosecution had failed to prove that the charges against them. In August, the Bombay high court struck down cases against 29 foreigners and five Indians facing similar charges. “A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity, and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats,” the court had said. “The material of the present matter shows that the propaganda against the so-called religious activity was unwarranted.”
The Jamaat hit the headlines in March when authorities blamed the gathering at its headquarters in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area for the jump in Covid-19 infections. The headquarters was sealed and thousands of attendees, including foreigners from countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the US, were quarantined. Police initially filed a case against Saad for violating a ban on big gatherings. He was later booked for culpable homicide, which carries a maximum punishment of 10-year imprisonment.
The Jamaat, which has followers in over 80 countries, maintained many visitors at its headquarters were stranded after the government declared a lockdown to check the pandemic spread. The Centre blacklisted around 1,500 foreign Tablighi members for violating their visa norms and multiple cases were registered against them across the country.