Is DDMA prohibition on gatherings being implemented across national capital: HC asks Centre

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New Delhi, Apr 13 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Centre whether the Delhi Disaster Management Authority's (DDMA) order prohibiting all kinds of gathering in the wake of increasing COVID-19 cases was being implemented across the board.

Justice Mukta Gupta directed the central government to file an affidavit indicating the manner in which the prohibitory orders of the DDMA issued on April 10 was being followed and whether any kind of social, religious, political or festive congregation or gathering was being permitted in the national capital.

The court was told, by the lawyer for the Delhi Waqf Board, that the DDMA order was not being implemented uniformly as huge gatherings and queues were seen outside the places of worship of a particular religion.

The judge also expressed displeasure over a statement given to the media by the Delhi Waqf Board's chairperson, Amanatullah Khan, who said that the court has allowed the mosque to be made operational.

'What is the business of this person (Amanatullah Khan) to give an interview (saying court ordered opening of the mosque)? Where has the court yesterday permitted opening of the markaz? I have not directed it,' Justice Mukta Gupta said.

The court said it was 'unfortunate' that such a statement was made by him when the issue with regard to reopening of the mosque was yet to be decided.

The court called for the affidavit, after Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta said that no gathering can be permitted at the mosque for offering prayers during Ramzan in view of the DDMA order.

He said only the five persons who were already being permitted to pray there each day can be allowed inside the Nizamuddin Markaz mosque.

The submission came during hearing of a plea by the Delhi Waqf Board seeking opening of the Nizamuddin Markaz where the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was locked since March 31 last year.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on April 15.

Senior advocate Ramesh Gupta, appearing for the Board, questioned how huge gatherings and queues were being permitted outside various temples in the national capital when the same was prohibited by DDMA.

He asked whether the DDMA order was applicable only on a particular religious community.

To this the Solicitor General said, 'I do not have the luxury of making political or communal statements' and added that the DDMA order was applicable to all religions.

He further said that if someone was not following the DDMA order, that cannot be a reason for permitting opening of the mosque in view of the rising COVID-19 cases.

'Human race is facing an existential crisis,' he said.

Gupta, during the hearing, urged the court to permit, as an interim measure for a day, at least 50 persons to offer prayers at the mosque on Wednesday.

However the court declined to grant the request at this stage, saying it cannot issue any such direction without first seeing what the Centre says in its affidavit.

'Let them first file an affidavit saying these are the guidelines that everyone has to abide by. How much it is being implemented is for them (Centre) to say in their affidavit. They will have to implement it across (the board). The opening of other places is not on court orders.

'Today I cannot give a direction which is contrary to the law. I have to work within the four corners of the law. Let them say they have closed all gatherings and it will apply to this (case) also. But if they say they have not closed all, then this will be open and everywhere social distancing will have to be followed,' Justice Mukta Gupta said.

The court also asked the Centre to examine the plan proposed by the Board for managing the entry of devotees into the mosque for offering prayers.

The court asked the Centre to place on record the video recordings of what happened at the mosque on April 12 during the inspection of the site on judicial orders.

The board, in its plea filed through advocate Wajeeh Shafiq, has contended that even after unlock-1 guidelines permitted religious places outside containment zones to be opened, the markaz -- comprising the Masjid Bangley Wali, Madarsa Kashif-ul-uloom and attached hostel -- continues to be locked up.

It has further contended that even if the premises was part of any criminal investigation or trial, keeping it 'under lock as an out of bound area' was a 'primitive method' of enquiry process.

An FIR has been registered under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Disaster Management Act, Foreigners Act and various provisions of the penal code in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat event held at the markaz and the subsequent stay of foreigners there during the COVID-19 lockdown. PTI HMP RKS RKS