Centre to decide on deporting foreign Jamaat attendees: Supreme CourtUpdated: Jul 02, 2020 23:22 IST
New Delhi: Deportation of foreign nationals against whom criminal proceedings have been initiated for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation during mid-March in Delhi will be at the discretion of the central government, the Supreme Court orally observed on Thursday while granting liberty to such foreigners to make representation before the Centre to send them back to their home countries.
The bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar made the observation during the hearing of a plea by 34 foreign nationals from various countries, who have challenged revocation of their visas, stating they had not indulged in any serious offence and had attended the gathering before lockdown restrictions were put in place. The petitioners made a vehement appeal for their deportation.
“They cannot be deported if there are criminal cases pending (against them). It will be the central government’s discretion”, the bench, which also comprised justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, orally remarked.
In an affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the central government said that deportation and grant of visas cannot be claimed as a right and foreign nationals can be let go only after legal process under the criminal laws is completed. The Centre also pointed out that individual orders have been issued cancelling the visas of the foreign Tablighi Jamaat members.
It was submitted by the Centre that 205 FIRs have been filed against foreign Tablighi Jamaat members in 11 states and 2,765 foreigners have been blacklisted.
“Grant of visa is a sovereign function of the centre. There is no right to be deported. Deportation can be allowed if there is no criminal case. There are criminal charges pending against them,” solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the central government, told the court.
The apex court eventually adjourned the matter for July 10 to enable the petitioners to file a rejoinder to the Centre’s affidavit.
“The pendency of these writ petitions will be no impediment for the concerned petitioners to make representation to the department/competent authority for deporting/sending them back to their respective countries. That representation may be considered by the authority on its own merits and in accordance with law”, the court said in its order.
Delhi’s Nizamuddin was sealed on March 30 after it came to light that several people, who had attended a religious event held in March in the area by a Muslim organisation called Tablighi Jamaat, were found to be infected with coronavirus. At least 16,500 people had visited Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Nizamuddin between March 13 and 24.
The Union Home Ministry (MHA) had initially, in April, blacklisted 960 foreign nationals who had attended the religious event.
The Centre, in its affidavit, claimed the foreign nationals who participated in the Tablighi Jamaat event violated provisions of visa rules and the Foreigners Act since they had arrived in India on limited tourist visas and Tablighi Jamaat activities were not covered by tourist visas.
“The petitioners did not seek any specific permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs for engaging in activities in the nature of Tablighi activities. Therefore, it is a clear case of violation of visa conditions”, the affidavit said.
The Centre specifically highlighted the provisions of visa manuals that have been updated from time to time, the latest being in 2019.
According to para 1.25 of the visa manual of 2019, foreign nationals granted any type of visa shall not be permitted to engage themselves in Tablighi work unless they are granted specific permissions for the same by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the affidavit highlighted.
Further, the Foreigners Act criminalises violation of visa conditions. Section 14 of the Foreigners Act makes provision for a jail term of upto 5 years if a person does any act in violation of the conditions of visa issued to him for entry and stay in India.
“Apart from that, these foreigners might have violated the provisions of National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) and the Epidemic Diseases Act (EDA)”, the affidavit added.
The central and state governments had imposed lockdown and other restrictions to check the spread of Covid-19, invoking the power granted under the NDMA and EDA.
“Deportation of foreign Tablighi Jamaat members have not been done till date to ensure completion of legal process going on against them. All such foreign nationals against whom cases have been registered will be deported as soon as the legal processes are completed”, the affidavit said.
‘Please deport us’
The petitioners through their counsel CU Singh made a vehement appeal for their deportation, stating that the attendees had not committed any grave offence.
“Please deport us to our home countries. We came here before any restrictions (imposed due to Covid-19). If we have not committed anything grave, the Centre can consider deporting us,” they said through Singh.
The bench observed that the proper course of action for the petitioners would be to challenge the central government’s orders individually before the high court concerned.
“This is not something which affects national security. These people came here much before (the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdown). Blacklisting would mean we should not be allowed to return to India but we can be deported,” Singh added.
205 FIRs against foreign Tablighi Jamaat members, 2,679 visas cancelled
According to the affidavit, a total of 205 FIRs have been filed in 11 states against foreign Tablighi members. 2,765 foreigners have been blacklisted so far and visas of 2,679 foreign nationals have been cancelled, it was stated.
It was also submitted that 227 foreign nationals left India before a lookout notice could be issued against them.
“47 foreigners who attended the Jamaat event are Nepal nationals who are not holding any visa. Visas of remaining 39 cases are under the process of cancellation,” the affidavit said.
The orders cancelling visas were intimated to 1,502 foreigners by email. However, 1,168 foreigners on regular visas could not be intimated regarding cancellation of visas as their email ids are not available with the immigration bureau, the central government submitted.