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Markaz case: Centre reverses its stand on reopening, wants curbs

The DDMA had last week ordered the lifting of all Covid restrictions in the national capital.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: March 5, 2022 2:34:27 am
Tablighi Jamaat, foreign nationals acquitted in mumbai, Covid lockdown violation mumbai, mumbai tablighi jamaat, mumbai city newsAdvocate Wajeeh Shafiq, representing the Waqf Board, submitted that the court was being misled by the Centre. (File Photo)

DAYS AFTER conveying to Delhi High Court that the mosque at Markaz Nizamuddin can be reopened in accordance with Covid guidelines issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), the Centre on Friday opposed the re-opening of the entire premises — and said only a few police-verified persons may be permitted to offer prayers. The DDMA had last week ordered the lifting of all Covid restrictions in the national capital.

Advocate Rajat Nair, representing the Centre, told the court: “The locus of the petitioner (Delhi Waqf Board) is doubtful and this particular premises is part of a case property, which has been attached.”
Nair was referring to the case registered by Delhi Police against the Markaz management for alleged violation of Covid curbs two years ago, leading to an outbreak among Tablighi Jamaat members. The High Court is hearing the Waqf Board’s petition to ease restrictions at Markaz Nizamuddin, where public entry was banned after that outbreak.

Nair informed the bench of Justice Manoj Kumar Ohri — the case was being heard until last week by Justice Mukta Gupta — that on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat last year, authorities had permitted the offering of namaz by 50 people on the mosque’s first floor.

“I have no dispute. I don’t say that those people cannot continue this time at Shab-e-Barat as well as during the holy month of Ramadan. If my learned friend (lawyer on opposite side) accepts that order, I have no dispute about that but if he is asking for reopening of the entire premises, then I have some submissions to make,” Nair said.

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When the court asked the counsel whether he had seen the latest DDMA order, he responded that it “was subsequent”. Nair submitted that authorities had initially opposed the reopening of the site but later, considering its religious nature, permitted five people to offer namaz five times a day and on occasions like Shab-e-Barat and the month of Ramadan, permitted more people “pursuant to their verification by the local SHO”.

Submitting that the same arrangement can be made this time, he argued: “There is no person who has come forward placing documents as to who is the rightful owner of this particular property…to whom Waqf has granted lease”.

Advocate Wajeeh Shafiq, representing the Waqf Board, submitted that the court was being misled by the Centre. He argued that when 50 people were permitted, there were certain DDMA guidelines in place, which now stand withdrawn completely.

“They are only keeping it locked. Admittedly, it is a mosque. It is a gazette-notified mosque. We have the statutory right to control, manage and administer these properties. They are intermeddling with our rights,” submitted Shafiq.

Observing that the DDMA’s Covid guidelines would apply to Markaz Nizamuddin as well, the court had in November 2021 ordered a joint inspection of the religious site. The inspection report, which is on record, states that the madrasa, mosque and hostel at Markaz Nizamuddin are separate from each other.

On February 22 this year, the Waqf Board sought the immediate reopening of the mosque and told the court that the month of Ramzan begins around April 2 and that Shab-e-Barat is in the month of March. In response, the Centre and Delhi Police had told the court that key areas at the site were earmarked during the inspection and that the only question was on the number of people to be allowed inside to offer prayers.

Justice Gupta had then recorded in her order: “Learned counsel appearing for Union of India states that as regards opening of the Masjid is concerned, the same will have to be in terms of the orders of the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) and he will file a status report in this regard before the next date.”

On Friday, Justice Ohri asked the Waqf Board to place on record the latest DDMA order and listed the matter for next hearing on March 11.

The Delhi Waqf Board in the petition filed in February 2021 has submitted that Masjid Bangley Wali, Madarsa Kashif-ul-uloom, and the attached hostel situated at Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin have been locked since March 2020.

The Centre earlier had told the court the premises have been kept “under lock and key” in view of the fact that the Markaz management is itself under investigation in the case registered last year by the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch.

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