Law

Will Farmers’ Protest Present the 'Same Problem' as Tablighi Jamaat: SC to Centre

The top court was hearing a plea that said the Delhi police had failed to control the spread of COVID-19 in March last year.

New Delhi: Hearing a petition seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and migrant worker exodus in March last year, the Supreme Court on Thursday wondered if the gathering of thousands of protesting farmers at Delhi borders could lead to the “same problem” of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The top court asked the Centre whether the protesting farmers are “protected” against the spread of COVID-19.

It also said the guidelines to contain the coronavirus should be followed.

The apex court was hearing a plea seeking various reliefs, including a CBI probe into the matter related to assembly of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizammudin Markaz in March 2020, when COVID-19 cases were rising in the country and the lockdown was imposed.

“You must tell us what is happening. The same problem is going to arise in farmers’ agitation. I do not know if farmers are protected from COVID. So, the same problem is going to arise. It is not that everything is over,” said Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, who was heading the bench which also comprised Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian.

The top court asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, whether the protesting farmers are protected from the spread of COVID-19. The Centre’s COVID-19 guidelines include wearing face masks at public places and following social distancing norms.

Mehta replied, “Certainly not.”

Mehta said he will file a report within two weeks on what has been done and what needs to be done.

The protests by the farmers at the border points in the national capital demanding the repeal of the three new farm laws began on November 28. Despite several rounds of negotiations with the Centre, no consensus or middle-ground has been agreed to.

The plea in the top court filed by advocate Supriya Pandita has alleged that the Delhi police had failed to control the gathering of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal last year during the lockdown.

Advocate Om Prakash Parihar, appearing for the petitioner, Thursday told the bench that the police has not said anything about the whereabouts of Nizamuddin Markaz chief Maulana Saad. The bench told Parihar, “Why are you interested in one person? We are on the issue of COVID. Why do you want controversy? We are interested that COVID guidelines should be followed.”

The apex court said it is trying to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread and the guidelines are followed.

“Issue notice. In the meantime, respondents shall file their reply affidavit, if any,” the bench said in its order.

The Tablighi Jamaat congregation was at the centre of a polarising campaign that sought to communalise the pandemic, with the attendees and even the larger Indian Muslim community accused of spreading the disease. Most cases registered against those who attended the religious congregation have been quashed by various courts.

The swell of migrant workers at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal in east Delhi, just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown, was attributed to their sudden loss of livelihood. Critics suggested that it was indicative of the unplanned manner in which the lockdown was announced. However, the Centre has blamed ‘fake media reports‘ for causing the swell.

The petition, filed by Jammu-based lawyer Supriya Pandita, accuses the Centre, the Delhi government and the police of failing to stop the spread of the virus, according to The Hindu.

It referred to a March 16 advisory issued by the government on social distancing norms, adding that the Tablighi Jamaat congregation violated many of these guidelines.

(With PTI inputs)