A day before all international flight operations were suspended at IGI Airport, the SHO of Hazrat Nizamuddin police station had on March 21 approached the management committee of the Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid, headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, and asked them to send all foreign pilgrims to their respective countries, and those from outside Delhi to their states. Senior police officers said this did not happen — indicating a lack of cooperation from Markaz members and a failure of the local police.
Police sources also told The Indian Express that personnel from the Southeast district lines and staff from the local police station have been stationed outside the Markaz for the last five years, but none of them red flagged the huge gathering in March, even as both the Centre and Delhi government kept emphasising on the need for social distancing. The Markaz and the police station are less than 50 metres apart.
An FIR registered by the Delhi Police against the Markaz management committee mentions the March 13 order of the Delhi government, banning any seminar or conferences with more than 200 people. On March 16, this number was reduced to 50.
Though Delhi Police say they had been warning Markaz authorities to vacate the premises, no official directions were given until March 21. Facing criticism, Delhi Police also released a video dated March 24, wherein SHO Mukesh Walia can be seen speaking to six Markaz members about “clear-cut instructions that over five people cannot congregate and all religious institutions are shut”.
A day later, the Maulana informed the SHO in a letter that they were trying to shut down the centre as directed by him. The Maulana told him they had evacuated 1,500 people. “We still have over 1,000 people from different states in the Markaz. We contacted SDM (sub-divisional magistrate) for vehicle pass so we can send the remaining people to their respective places. The SDM office has given time for a meeting at 11 am on March 25. You are therefore requested to kindly approach the SDM for early action. We are ready to comply with your directions,” the letter states.
Special Commissioner of Police (Intelligence unit) Praveer Ranjan, when contacted, said: “We were in touch with them and regularly, asking them to vacate the place in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.”
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