No End in Sight to the Plight of Foreign Tablighi Members as Centre Hardens Stand

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The foreign Tablighi Jamaat members are stranded in the country since March 2020 after getting embroiled in Covid-19 controversy. — File photo

Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India

CHENNAI — With the Central government seems to be hardening its stand on their deportation ordeal of the 2,679 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members is not over yet. They are stranded in the country since March 2020 after getting embroiled in Covid-19 controversy.

A case is being heard in the Supreme Court for their deportation by a bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar. The plaintiff, 34 foreign nationals, have challenged the Central government’s revocation of their visas and blacklisting them. They pleaded that since they committed no crime, they should be deported to their home countries at the earliest.

Responding to this, the government has submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the visas of the 2,679 foreign nationals have been cancelled and they will be allowed to go home only when the legal process under Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is complete.

The affidavit said, “227 foreign nationals left India before a lookout notice could be issued against them. 47 foreigners are Nepali nationals and hold no visa and the remaining 39 cases are under the process of visa cancellation.”

The Central governments’ affidavit claimed that the foreign nationals by attending the Jamaat event in New Delhi violated the provisions of visa rules and provisions of the Foreigners Act.  Besides, they might also have violated the provisions of National Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic provisions of visa rules and provisions of Foreigners Act, Diseases Act.

These laws were invoked by the Central and state governments to impose lockdown and other restrictions to check the spread of Covid-19, the central government said in its affidavit.

Appearing for the Centre in the case, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that grant of visa and deportation cannot be claimed as a right. “Grant of visas is a sovereign function of the Central government. There is no right to be deported. Deporting can be allowed only if there is no criminal case. Once a foreign national enters the country and a criminal charge is brought against the person, he cannot be deported,” Mehta said.

To this, Justice AM Khanwilkar remarked, “It will be the Central government’s discretion and there cannot be deportation if there is a criminal case.”

He further observed that the proper course of action for the petitioners would be to challenge the Central government’s orders individually before the concerned high court.

The 34 foreign nationals had earlier argued, “We came here before any restrictions (imposed due to Covid-19). We have not committed any grave crime and should be deported. ”

“Blacklisting would mean we should not be allowed to return to India but it cannot be a reason for detention. In normal course, action for visa violation is deportation,” the petitioners submitted with a plea, “please deport us to our home countries.”

The matter was adjourned till July 10 to allow the petitioners to file rejoinder affidavit in response to Centre’s affidavit.

Surprisingly, in the deliberations at the Supreme Court, there was no mention of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court judgment on June 12 that exonerated 31 foreign TJ members from all such charges being heard by the Apex Court?

“These people have served maximum sentences for violation of Visa rules and there is no proof that they have spread Coronavirus. In such a situation, if the petitioners execute appropriate affidavits expressing their regret for having violated the visa conditions, proceedings against them shall be concluded by filing final reports recording the same,” the High Court said while granting bail to 31 foreign TJ members in Tamil Nadu.

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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