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Approach SHO for permission to open other floors of Nizamuddin Markaz for prayers: HC to Waqf Board

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New Delhi:  The Delhi High Court Monday asked the Delhi Waqf Board to file an application before the SHO of the concerned police station seeking permission to open the other three floors of Nizamuddin Markaz, where the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has remained shut since then, to enable devotees to offer prayers during Shab-e-Barat and Ramzan.

Justice Manoj Kumar Ohri noted the statement of the counsel for Delhi Waqf Board, which has sought the court’s direction to the Centre to fully open the building, that requisite application will be made to the SHO of Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station immediately.

The Centre’s counsel Rajat Nair assured the court that the application will be considered as per law immediately.

The court, which was hearing an application by the Delhi Waqf Board seeking to open the mosque in view of Shab-e-Barat and Ramzan in March and April, listed the matter for further proceedings on March 16.

During the hearing, Nair submitted that he has no objection in allowing 50 persons to offer prayers at the mosque’s first floor but the opening of the entire mosque cannot be permitted.

He referred to the high court’s April 15, 2021 order by which it had permitted 50 persons to perform the Namaz five times at Masjid Bangley Wali on the first floor.

The high court had then granted liberty to the Delhi Waqf Board to make an application to the SHO of Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station seeking permission for 50 devotees each in the other three floors to be allowed to offer prayers.

The government’s counsel said no such application was made to the SHO and that the petitioner may first approach the police official with requisite prayer.

He made it clear that the permission will be for festivals only, that is, Shab-e-Barat and Ramzan, and not for all times.

Senior advocate Sanjoy Ghose, representing Delhi Waqf Board, and Senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for the managing committee of the mosque, submitted that the liberty was granted to them but they did not avail it and the application was not made to the SHO as COVID was ragging and the second wave of the pandemic was at its peak when the April last year order was passed.

Ghose said they were ready to give an undertaking that no foreigner will be allowed to offer prayer at the mosque during this festival time and they will abide by any condition imposed by the court.

The high court on March 11, had asked the Centre to come with a clear stand as to what objection it has in fully re-opening the Nizamuddin Markaz.

The court had sought to know from the Centre why it was against reopening it fully daily when it was agreeable to open it during festivals.

The Centre, in its recent affidavit, has opposed fully re-opening the Nizamuddin Markaz and stated that a few people may be allowed to offer prayers on the upcoming religious occasions.

The counsel for the Delhi Waqf Board had earlier said that the mosque, which is under the lock of Delhi Police, should be opened as the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has now lifted all restrictions that were imposed on account of the pandemic.

Several FIRs were registered under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Disaster Management Act, the Foreigners Act and various provisions of the penal code in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat event held at the Nizamuddin Markaz and the subsequent stay of foreigners there during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

In its application filed through advocate Waqeeh Shafiq, the petitioner has said that last year during these two occasions — Shab-e-Barat and Ramzan, the high court had permitted prayers in the mosque.

It has said the current strain of COVID-19, Omicron, was not as severe and fatal as the Delta variant and as the conditions have improved, physical hearings of all courts have resumed, schools, clubs, bars, and markets have also reopened, therefore, there is no impediment to direct reopening of this waqf property.

The application was filed in the Board’s petition which has sought the reopening of the premises and contended that even after unlock-1 guidelines permitted religious places outside containment zones to be opened, the Markaz — comprising the Masjid Bangle Wali, Madarsa Kashif-ul-Uloom, and attached hostel — continues to be locked up.

It has stated that even if the premises were part of any criminal investigation or trial, keeping it “under lock as an out of bound area” was a “primitive method” of the enquiry process.

Last year, the court had questioned the Centre as to how long it intended to keep the Nizamuddin Markaz locked, saying it can’t be “kept forever”.

In its affidavit affirmed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime, the Centre has told the court that it was “necessary and incumbent” to “preserve” the Markaz property as the investigation in the case registered for violation of the COVID-19 protocols has “cross borders implications and involves nation’s diplomatic relationship with other countries.”

On April 15, 2021, the court had allowed 50 people to offer namaz five times a day at Nizamuddin Markaz during Ramzan, saying there is no direction in the DDMA notification to close down places of worship.

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