On Tuesday, Kejriwal said the city should brace for a surge in cases as some of the 441 symptomatic people evacuated from the Markaz (centre) are expected to test positive. (File photo)
Over the past three days, 1,548 people have been evacuated from the Markaz Nizamuddin, the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Tuesday. Of these, 441 are symptomatic and have been sent to the hospital for coronavirus testing, while others have been quarantined.
Nizamuddin West continued to be under strict lockdown, with heavy police deployment on Tuesday, a day after 18 people from the area tested positive for COVID-19. A gathering at a mosque in the area mid-March has emerged as the epicentre of the outbreak, with cases emerging not just in the national capital but in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, the Andaman islands, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and other states.
Beginning Tuesday morning, people were brought out in batches of 30-35 from the Markaz Nizamuddin building and taken to hospitals or quarantine centres in DTC buses. The drivers were made to wear protective suits.
At least 24 of the 97 coronavirus cases in Delhi are from this area. On Tuesday, Kejriwal said the city should brace for a surge in cases as some of the 441 symptomatic people evacuated from the Markaz (centre) are expected to test positive.
“Of the cases so far, 24 are related to the Markaz, 41 are people who returned from other countries, 22 are relatives of those who have tested positive. We are still looking at the nature of transmission in 10 cases. So far, we have not seen evidence of community transmission,” Kejriwal said.
Calling the organisers of the gathering at the Markaz “irresponsible”, Kejriwal said that on March 12 and 13, many people from across the country and abroad had gathered there. And while many left afterwards, several people stayed back.
“This disease has gripped the entire world. At a time like this, this (holding a gathering) was a very irresponsible thing. Navratras are on and there are usually many people in temples, but there is no one this time. Gurdwaras are shut, people are not coming to the masjid to pray and are praying at home. Mecca is empty, Vatican City is empty. At such a time, to have held such a big gathering was wrong,” he said.
Kejriwal said the Delhi government has written to the L-G requesting that an FIR be registered against the organisers. He also said action will be taken against any officer who is found to have not followed orders on limiting gatherings.
On Tuesday, the Delhi Police registered a case against Maulana Saad and other members of the Tablighi Jamaat under section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act 1897, and several IPC sections, including 120-B (criminal conspiracy). Delhi Police spokesperson M S Randhawa said, “The FIR has been filed for violation of government directions given to the management of the Markaz regarding restriction of social/political/religious gathering and for taking safety measures, including social distancing.”
Cracking the cluster
NEW DELHI’s Hazrat Nizamuddin cluster will significantly alter the nature of spread of the novel coronavirus disease. But because the new cases are in large groups and linked to one source, it may be easier to reliably trace the contacts. But this comes at a time when there are more examples which suggest community transmission. Full REPORT Page 5
Delhi Police also released a video dated March 24, wherein SHO Hazrat Nizamuddin police station can be seen speaking to six members of the Markaz about “clear-cut instructions that more than five people cannot congregate and all religious institutions are shut”. In the video, the SHO says, “Despite telling you several times, this problem is not getting solved... if you don’t clear it immediately, I will be forced to take strict legal action”. A member of the Markaz then says, “We have evacuated 1,500 people but there are more people inside... over 1,000 from outside Delhi... They all want to go home but the borders are sealed.” The SHO then asks them to speak to the SDM about the matter immediately.
Members of the Tablighi Jamaat, meanwhile, said that “at least 1,500 members, including 280 foreigners, were evacuated from the Banglewali Masjid and Markaz Nizamuddin on March 23 — a day after the one-day ‘Janta Curfew’ announced by the PM.
Advocate Fuzail Ayyubi told The Indian Express, “As of March 22, there were at least 4,000 people living at the Markaz. The 1,500 were evacuated.”
Asked about the Delhi government’s order that barred large gatherings in the capital, sources at the Markaz said, “This is the international headquarter of the Tablighi Jamaat and people from all over the world come and live here though the year. There was a quarterly meeting of members of the Jamaat in the second week of March, but that was before the lockdown. Also, these people live inside the Markaz. nowhere does it say that’s not allowed.”
Sources said that “as long as trains were running, people were coming. and as long as planes were flying, people were coming to the area. As soon as lockdown was announced, we evacuated as many as we could and then stayed put.”
Ayyubi said, “People visit through the year for a few days of teaching, and then go about ‘chilla’, which is 40 days of travelling through the country, across mosques, learning and then imparting that knowledge to Muslim households.”
An official spokesperson of the Markaz claimed that “on March 24, the SHO of Hazrat Nizamuddin police station issued a notice that the Markaz should be closed down, and we stated that there are still people inside”.
“We requested the SHO and the SDM to issue vehicle passes so that the rest of the people could be sent back to their states... We did not get the permission.”
Sources at the Markaz said that most international visitors come from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and from within India, many come from Tamil Nadu, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.
The spokesperson of the Markaz said that “on March 25, a medical team visited them for inspection and lists of visitors were provided to the authorities... on March 26, the SDM visited Markaz Nizamuddin and was apprised of the stranded visitors and once again (we) sought permission for the vehicles arranged by us. The tehsildar too visited with a medical team and on March 27, six people were taken for a check-up.”
The Delhi government had issued an order banning gatherings of over 200 people on March 13. Responding to the Tablighi Jamaat’s statement, AAP MLA Atishi tweeted: “The ‘iztema’ happened much before the dates mentioned in this statement, from 13-15th March. On 13th, Delhi government issued an order banning any gathering of more than 200 people. Why did markaz not stop the event? Why did Delhi Police not take action when police station is next to markaz?”
The Tablighi Jamaat is a conservative Muslim organisation that was set up in 1926 by Maulana Ilyas to spread religious knowledge among Muslims. It is supposed to be the largest Muslim religious movement in the world.