[Tablighi Jamaat]Centre Informs SC Of Withdrawal Of Look Out Notices; Court Orders Consolidation Of Trials and Directs Expeditious Disposal [Read Order]
The Centre on Thursday informed Supreme Court that look out notices issued against foreign nationals for their alleged involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities at Delhi's Nizammuddin Markaz have been withdrawn.
Thus, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta apprised the Court that all such foreign nationals, who were initially blacklisted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, may leave the country during the pendency of trial against them.
Upon being asked about the status of trials, Mehta informed the Bench comprising of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari that 10 out of the 34 petitioners had chosen to contest the criminal cases against them instead of opting for a plea bargain.
The SG further stated that these trials were before different Courts in Delhi and suggested that they may be brought before one Court to be disposed of expeditiously.
Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for some of the petitioners, urged that the Court address the issue of sending these people back to their home countries.
On this point, SG Mehta further iterated that if those who were under trial chose to go back to their country during the pendency of the case, they may render an apology and be allowed to go back subject to the Orders of the Court. Mehta added that even the remaining petitioners have the option of going in for a plea bargain.
Recording these submissions of the Solicitor, the Bench noted as follows-
"Learned Solicitor General has also, in all fairness, submitted that if the concerned petitioners tender apology, as envisaged by the Madras High Court in the concerned criminal case, the said petitioners can be permitted to leave India despite the pendency of the criminal case but subject to such orders that may be passed by the concerned Trial Court…
…The learned Solicitor General has also fairly submitted that as of today only ten petitioners have decided to contest the criminal cases pending against them and are not willing to exercise the option of plea bargaining."
Agreeing with Mehta's suggestion, Justice Khanwilkar directed all pending matters to be transferred to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Saket. Accordingly, the CMM has been directed to dispose of all the cases expeditiously.
"…we deem it appropriate that the criminal cases concerning these ten petitioners pending in different Trial Courts in the NCT of Delhi be brought before the same Court hearing Criminal Case arising out of FIR No.63 of 2020, so that all the cases can be disposed of expeditiously. Accordingly, we direct transfer of stated cases to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, South-East Delhi, Saket Court Complex, Saket as suggested and direct the said Court to dispose of all the cases expeditiously preferably within eight weeks from today."
-directed the Court in its Order
On this issue, Senior advocate CU Singh also submitted that there needs to be some segregation in terms of cases where people opt for plea bargaining and those cases where they choose to face trial.
Senior Advocate Menaka Guruswamy, also appearing for some of the petitioners, weighed in to inform the court of the difficulties still being faced by the petitioners. She stated that despite the Centre's claims that look out notices had been withdrawn, some of the petitioners who went to the airport in an attempt to go back home were pushed back and were told that they did not have instructions to allow them to leave the country.
Justice Khanwilkar assured the petitioners that in case of such a problem, the Solicitor General may be contacted to resolve the issue. Khurshid also suggested that this difficulty may be solved by simply circulating a list to Airport authorities.
The Court has now listed the matter after 8 weeks, with the expectation that all pending trials will be disposed of by that time, and granted the petitioners liberty to approach Court if required in the interim period.
On April 2, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) communicated the Government's decision to blacklist as many as 960 foreigners from 35 countries who were present in India. At the same time, orders were issued to Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all States and Union Territories as well as the Commissioner of Delhi Police (CP) to register FIRs against such foreign nationals.
In light of this, a plea had been filed before the Supreme Court, contending that the decision had been taken unilaterally and arbitrarily. Their plea emphasised that a decision of en masse blacklisting without issuing notice or providing an opportunity of being heard is in blatant violation of not only principles of natural justice, but also, of the Right to Life under Article 21.
The petitioners, all of whom have been blacklisted, submitted that not only has the sudden decision led to FIRs being registered against them but has also resulted in them having to forfeit their passports to the State Administration. This, they contended, is a complete deprivation of personal liberty, without following procedure established under law.
Hearing the matter, the Court had allowed all these foreign nationals to make representations challenging their individual visa cancellation orders before appropriate authorities. While a certain number of them had opted for a plea bargain, a few others had expressed apprehension in doing so as they would face difficulties in their home countries if they were charged of a crime in a foreign country. Therefore, they had chosen to face trial.