The Centre is in touch with foreign embassies to initiate the process of deporting foreign Tablighi Jamaat workers who attended a religious congregation at Nizamuddin markaz (centre) in March and were booked for violating tourist visa norms.
On April 3, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Punya Salila Srivastava had asserted that States had been asked to register cases against 960 blacklisted foreign Tablighi workers. At “this stage, the question of deportation does not arise,” and if it happened it would be done as per health protocols, she had said.
On March 28, the MHA wrote to States that around 2,000 Tablighis from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and other countries who entered India on tourist visas appeared to be “potential carriers” of coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We have been receiving requests from foreign governments to repatriate their citizens, as it has been more than three months and they have already completed the quarantine cycle,” a senior government official told The Hindu.
Till June 2, a total of 2,594 Tablighi foreigners who had come for the event from January onwards were blacklisted from entering India for 10 years under “Category A,” of the Visa Manual 2018. A foreigner who is blacklisted cannot get a visa to come to India. Most of the foreigners returned, but 960 remained in India.
All international flights were suspended on March 23 and the country was placed under a 21-day lockdown on March 24 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
“The foreigner Tablighi workers will be deported, but the cases filed against them will go on. The Indian Tablighi members who violated norms by not calling off the congregation at the markaz will continue to face charges,” said the official.
The official added that the foreign embassies will arrange the flights and make arrangement for the return of their citizens.
A few days ago, the MHA had included “indulging in Tablighi activities” as a specific visa violation that will attract a fine of $500. The MHA has added a new category, “restriction on engaging in Tabligh activities,” in the “general policy guidelines relating to Indian visa.”
“Some of them do not have any money on them. In such cases, the government will consider waiving the fine,” said the official.
On June 2, the Uttar Pradesh government informed the Allahabad High Court that 279 foreign Tablighi workers were lodged in jails while 46 had left the country after being released from institutional quarantine. Delhi Police has filed chargesheets against 541 such foreigners for violating visa norms, but none of them has been arrested though.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on June 4, the MHA said that the foreign Tablighi participants obtained tourist visa on “false pretexts.”
The MHA said in the affidavit that “all of these foreign nationals have been served with a notice under section 41 A CrPc and all of them have given an undertaking that they would not violate the conditions and abide by the terms of the notice. These foreigners were examined with the help of a questionnaire. …….”
The affidavit added that the passports of 723 accused foreigners and identity cards of 23 accused Nepal nationals were taken into possession and some of the accused were unable to produce their passports.
The Bangladesh and Indonesian governments have both been pressing for an early release of their citizens, while the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that any decision can be made after the cases are completed. Sources said efforts are on to “resolve” the issue at the earliest. Bangladesh has around 270 awaiting repatriation at present.
Founded by a Deobandi Isamic scholar at Mewat, Uttar Pradesh, in 1926, the Tablighi Jamaat (Society of Preachers) focusses on ‘purifying’ the Muslim faith. It has presence in 150 countries.
(With inputs from Suhasini Haidar)