- HC allowed the re-opening of certain areas of Nizamuddin Markaz
- Waqf Board clarified that no "Tablighi activities" and lectures can take place on the premises
- The court directed the installation of CCTV cameras at the entry, exit and stairs of each floor
The Delhi High Court on Friday allowed the re-opening of certain areas 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 the month of Ramzan.
Justice Jasmeet Singh, who was hearing a plea by the Delhi Waqf Board seeking a direction to open the mosque for the holy month, clarified that no "Tablighi activities" and lectures can take place on the premises and only prayers can be offered.
"It is directed that for Ramadan, namaz and religious prayers shall be permitted to be offered on the ground floor and four floors at Masjid Bangle Wali. This arrangement is only for the one month of Ramzan culminating with Eid Ul Fitr," ordered the court.
"Religious prayers and namaz (are allowed) but no Tablighi activities. Let's not dilute it. There will be no lectures. Prayers can be made. But no lectures," the court stated. It added that the instant permission was in continuation of the March 16 order which imposed various conditions for the reopening of the premises for the occasion of Shab-e-Bharat.
The court further directed the installation of CCTV cameras at the entry, exit and stairs of each floor of the premises and said that it shall be the responsibility of the Markaz management to ensure that the cameras are fully functional during the period of Ramzan. For the occasion of Shab-e-Bharat, the court had removed the 100-person limit on one floor and said it has been agreed that the management of the mosque will ensure that COVID-19 protocols and social distancing will be followed while allowing devotees to enter the mosque to offer namaz.
Lawyer Rajat Nair, appearing for Delhi police and the central government, opposed the grant of permission to offer prayers on the fourth floor and said that mosque was only restricted to the ground floor which is borne out of the site plan. "If there are more floors, there is more space... If there is a reason (to oppose the opening of the fourth floor), tell us. The more surface area, the better it is. More area is always conducive," the court remarked.
The judge stated that as per the joint inspection report, the fourth floor was part of the masjid area and the present observations are the only prima face and subject to adjudication. Central government lawyer also said that no "Tablighi activities" and lectures can be permitted in the Markaz and only prayers are allowed.
Senior advocate Sanjoy Ghose, appearing for the petitioner, and senior advocate Rebecca John, representing the management of the Markaz, urged the court to permit the offering of prayers on the fourth floor as well. The application for reopening the Markaz was filed in the Board's 2021 petition which has sought the reopening of the premises on the ground 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.
The high court had earlier asked the petitioner, represented through advocate Waqeeh Shafiq, to file an application before the SHO of Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station seeking permission to open the other three floors of Nizamuddin Markaz to enable devotees to offer prayers during the two occasions. The Central government, in its affidavit, has opposed fully re-opening the Nizamuddin Markaz and stated that only a few people may be allowed to offer prayers on certain religious occasions.
The counsel for the Delhi Waqf Board has argued that the mosque, which is under the lock of the 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.