In the backdrop of Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi leading to several COVID-19 infections, the Gujarat High Court on Friday observed that the Central Government should deal with the violators of Visa laws with a "firm hand".
As per a report submitted by the Central government, 960 foreigners who attended the congregation on the strength of their Tourist Visas were in violation of the provisions of the Visa Manual 2019 as also amenable to action under Sections 13 and 14 of The Foreigners Act, 1946.
Taking strong exception to this, the bench comprising of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri observed
"…with regard to the violation of the Visa Manual, 2019 and The Foreigners Act, 1946, Union of India woke up although late but then now it is in full gear and concerted effort is being made to identify such violators, find their location and track them down. We may only add that the Central Government may strictly ensure the compliance of the provisions of the Visa Manual, 2019 and The Foreigners Act, 1946 relating to entry of foreign nationals based on their respective visas and anyone found violating the same should be dealt with a firm hand," the bench said.
The matter was taken as a follow up on an earlier direction made the High Court to the Central and the state governments, asking them to file reports on the steps taken by them for identification and isolation of people who had who attended the congregation and had subsequently entered Gujarat.
In view of the said order, the Central government submitted that detailed status reports on the identification of all the Indian and foreign nationals was in progress and as soon as the complete information is received, the same would be shared with the respective States for further follow up action.
The state government submitted a report relating to identification and care and protection of the participants of Tablighi Jamaat who had travelled to Gujarat.
During the course of hearing on Friday, Assistant Solicitor General informed the court that "In view of the violation, decision has been taken to cancel Visas of these 960 nationals immediately and all would be blacklisted under Category "A" as per the blacklisting guidelines and accordingly, action would be taken for deporting them."
Expressing satisfaction on the same, the bench said,
"We hope and trust that both the Central Government as also the State Government would continue with their endeavor in the same letter and spirit to deal in the present critical condition created by the Pandemic COVID-19 (Corona Virus) and the Tablighi Jamaat because of which, the entire nation is in a state of lock down for 21 days beginning 25th March, 2020 till 14th April, 2020."
With regards the High Court's direction to ensure that no religious gatherings take place in the state, the government filed a report clarifying all the doubts.
Inter alia, the High Court jointly heard a batch of other petitions filed in the wake of the pandemic. In response, the state government had submitted an exhaustive report, detailing the steps taken to ensure the welfare of children, women, migrants, etc. during the lockdown.
Recording its satisfaction on the issues, the High Court asked people to refrain from filing multiple litigations raising similar claims for which both the Central Government and the State Governments are already conscious and are taking appropriate decisions to meet with the crisis.
"It is also worth mentioning that in a state of lock-down and social distancing, the Government employees of various departments falling under essential services like police, medical and health, food and civil supplies, labour and employment, finance, etc., are working day and night to deal with crisis risking their life, any public interest litigation which is found to be motivated or sponsored or for personal gains for popularity or any vested interest, or frivolous would be dealt with at the appropriate stage firmly," the court cautioned.
Lastly, it asked both the Central and the state governments to file reports on some of the new issues raised during the course of hearing within two weeks.
The matter is now posted for April 17.
Case Details:Case Title: Suo Moto v. State of Gujarat (and other batch of petitions)Case No.: Suo Moto PIL No. 42/2020Quorum: Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri
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