Centre opposes re-opening of Nizamuddin Markaz, says case has ‘cross border implications’

Centre told the Delhi High court on Monday that Nizamuddin Markaz, where the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held in March 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic is allegedly serious and has “cross borders implications”, as the court had remarked that premises can’t be kept locked forever.

Centre’s counsel Rajat Nair stated that a legal action to re-open Nizamuddin can only be approved by the lessee of the property and a resident of the premises has already filed a plea to render the residential portion, which is still pending final adjudication before another high court judge.

“Only on legal view, the petition can be disposed of. The Waqf Board has no power to overstep the lessee,” Rajat Nair said.

Hearing the Delhi Waqf Board’s plea to re-open the markaz, which is shut since March 31 last year, Justice Mukhta Gupta said, “However, some persons were in possession of the property. Due to the pandemic, an FIR was registered and you take possession as case property. It has to be handed over and this property can’t be kept forever. What is your stand on the facts of the case? You tell me from whom you took it. How long will you keep it locked as case property?”

The high court also issued notice on an application filed by a member of the Markaz managing committee in question for his suit and granted the Waqf Board to file its reply to the government’s affidavit and posted the next hearing on November 16.

Arguing that the petition has remained pending for more than a year-and-a-half, Senior counsel Ramesh Gupta clarified that his petition pertained to the release of the entire markaz property, comprising the masjid, the madarasa and the residential portion.

“Now they should release the property to us. UOI has no role to play,” he added.

Representing the intervening member, Senior counsel Salman Khurshid added that he is “on the same page as the Waqf” and when the markaz is allowed to be reopened, it would adhere to the relevant protocols.

The centre in its affidavit affirmed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime, has maintained that it is “necessary and incumbent” to “preserve” the Markaz as the inquiry in the case has “cross borders implications and involves nation’s diplomatic relationship with other countries”.

During the month on Ramazan on April 15, the high court had allowed 50 people to offer namaz five times a day at Nizamuddin, quoting that there is no direction in the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) notification to close down places of worship.

In its plea filed through advocate Wajeeh Shafiq, the Waqf board contended that the markaz continues to be locked up, even after unlock-1 guidelines permitting religious places outside containment zones to reopen.

Even if the premises was part of any criminal investigation or trial, the board further contented that keeping it “under lock as an out of bound area” was a “primitive method” of enquiry process.

Several FIRs have been registered under the various provisions of the Indian Penal Code in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat event that was held at the markaz during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.

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