‘Same problem will arise from the farmers’ protest… Don’t know if they are protected from COVID-19… You must tells us what is happening,’ CJI Bobde tells Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde on Thursday voiced the Supreme Court’s apprehension that mass gatherings of protesting farmers will lead to a “problem similar to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation” in March last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Same problem will arise from the farmers’ protest… Don’t know if they are protected from COVID-19… You must tells us what is happening,” Chief Justice Bobde, heading a three-judge Bench, addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre.
“We will find out the status,” Mr. Mehta responded.
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The court was hearing a petition filed by a Jammu-based lawyer, advocate Supriya Pandita, represented by advocate Omprakash Parihar, seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into circumstances leading to the swelling of migrant workers, anxious to leave the National Capital for their villages and hometowns, at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal for buses, and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, which even saw foreign delegates attained, in violation of social distancing norms.
Both incidents happened in March last year, the same month which saw a complete lockdown being put in place to prevent the spread of the infection.
Report on guidelines sought
The court issued notice to the Centre and the Delhi government. It asked Mr. Mehta to file a detailed report on its guidelines to prevent COVID-19, including restrictions on mass gatherings.
When Mr. Parihar submitted that there was “no trace of Maulana Saad”, the chief of Nizamuddin Markaz, the CJI stopped him, saying “we are interested in preventing COVID and compliance of guidelines here… and you are worried about one person”.
The petition accused the Centre, the Delhi government and the police of failing to protect the spread of the virus.
It referred to a March 16 advisory issued by the government on social distancing norms.
The advisory, the petition said, “clearly states that religious leaders are to regulate mass gatherings and ensure no overcrowding. At least a metre’s distance between people, non-essential travel should be avoided”.
The petition quotes the advisory, which mandates that “any event (social, cultural, political, religious, academic, sports, seminars and conference) except marriages is restricted to a maximum of 50 persons in the NCT of Delhi till March 31”.
It said the Prime Minister had announced the lockdown on March 23. But merely four days later “tens of thousands of migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh working in Delhi assembled outside Anand Vihar Bus Terminal, elbowing each other to board the first available bus to their hometowns or villages”.
The petition said 24 people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation had tested positive.
It said “ignoring all social distancing norms to avoid the deadly virus, hundreds had been staying in the 100-year-old mosque complex… More than 2,000 delegates, including from Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan, attended the congregation”.