The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the government for claiming to have cancelled visas of 2,500 foreigners who attended a religious congregation of Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin here in mid-March, but who were allowed to stay back in India and not deported.
On a petition by 34 foreigners from 15 countries, the Bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, to clarify whether the visas of these blacklisted foreigners were cancelled and furnish by Thursday the separate orders issued against each of them by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on April 2 and June 4.
The petitioners have demanded that MHA should remove them from the blacklist, reinstate their visas and facilitate their return to their respective countries, which is not possible on their own because of the ban on international flights. They asserted that a false claim was made that the participants of the Tablighi congregation played a role in the initial spread of coronavirus at many places in the country, since a large number of them had tested positive for Covid-19.
"If the visas of these foreigners (who attended Tablighi meet) were cancelled, why are they still in India? You deport them. If not cancelled, we will throw out these petitions. Also, tell us if there was just a general direction or individual orders sent to each one of them informing about blacklisting and cancellation of visa," Justice Khanwilkar asked the Solicitor General.
The judge pointed out that the MHA notificattion says the decision has to be taken on a case to case basis by the authorities; so the court needs to know whether the individuals were questioned or blacklisted through a blanket order. "What the petitioners have produced before us are mere press releases. We cannot go by that. We will have to find out whether individual orders were passed," Justice Khanwilkar underlined.
The Vacation Bench, which included Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, acted on the foreigners insisting that no individual orders were issued cancelling their visas, except for a general direction issued to the states to blacklist them and register first information reports (FIRs) against them for preaching in different parts of the country in violation of the visa rules. Such direction violated their rights under Article 21, the petitioners contended.
The petition says the en-masse blacklisting of foreigners without any opportunity to defend is a blatant violation of Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution, as forfeiture of their passports by the state authorities resulted in a complete deprivation of their personal liberty.The foreigners pleaded that their passports were impounded and the home ministry blacklisted them without hearing them even once. They were aggrieved by the Ministry's blanket order on April 2, blacklisting 960 foreigners of 35 countries.Later, on June 4, MHA further blacklisted 2,500 foreigners, presently in India, for their participation in the Tablighi Jamaat event and directed director general of police of states and Union territories to register FIRs against them.
Four petitions have been filed, including one by a Thai national who is seven months pregnant. The Delhi Police has already filed 20 charge-sheets against the foreign nationals participating in the Tablighi congregation, accusing them of coming on tourist visas but indulging in missionary activitites as well as contributing to the spread of coronavirus.