Mumbai, Aug 22: The Bombay High Court has quashed the FIRs against 29 foreign nationals who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz in March.
While quashing the FIRs, the court said that there was no evidence to show that they violated visa conditions and propagated Islam or were responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
"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 Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court said.
A Division Bench comprising Justices M G Sewlikar and T V Nalawade was hearing a petition against the foreign and Indian nationals booked under The Epidemics Act, Disaster Management Act and The Foreigners Act for attending the Markaz event. FIRs against seven Indian nationals were also quashed by the court.
The petitioners from various countries said that they had come on a valid visa issued by the Indian Government. We had come to experience Indian culture, tradition, food and hospitality. We were screened at the airport in accordance with the procedure and even informed the local authorities about our stay. We had said that we are here only to observe religious practices of Islam, the petitioners also told the court. The police however said that they had violated the visa norms.
"It appears that the state government acted under political compulsion and police also did not dare to exercise powers given to them under provisions of procedural law like the Criminal Procedure Code and substantive laws," the court said.
There was non-application of mind and the government cannot give different treatment to citizens of the different religions of different countries. On why these persons were given shelter in Mosques, the court said, " giving shelter to such persons could not have been treated as offence, commission of the act of disobedience of orders."
"The material discussed shows that no such nuisance was created by the foreigners or Indian Muslims and only an attempt was made by others to create such atmosphere against them," the Bench also said.
"A political government tries to find the 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 aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken. It is now high time for the concerned to repent about this action taken against the foreigners and to take some positive steps to repair the damage done by such action," the court also noted.
The court also refused to grant a stay order for an appeal as the procedures to grant permission for the foreign nationals for their return and arrangement for flights would anyway take time.
In a situation like the current pandemic, instead of being more tolerant and sensitive towards guests, they were lodged in jails by making allegations that they were responsible for violation of travel documents and for spreading the virus when no such evidence was found, the court also said.