The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the consolidation of multiple FIRs from Bihar against foreign nationals for their alleged involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities and ordered the transfer of all cases before one court.
The Bench comprising of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna directed the Patna High Court to identify one specific court within a period of one week where all the matters may be listed for hearing. The Bench further stated that the matter be heard on a day to day basis in order to wrap up the trial expeditiously within 8 weeks.
The Court allowed the application after the Bihar government filed an affidavit expressing no objections to the prayers of the applicants. On August 25, the Top Court had sought a response from the State Government in the application filed by 30 foreign nationals who are accused in 6 FIRs and undergoing trial in different courts in Bihar. In their application, these foreigners had prayed for similar relief of consolidated FIRs and expedited trial, as had been granted by Supreme Court with respect to the 34 petitioners from Delhi.
A similar application has also now been filed by foreign nationals undergoing trial in different courts in Uttar Pradesh. The Bench today asked the UP government to file a counter affidavit with its response to the prayer for transferring all cases before one court. The issue will now be taken up for consideration on September 3.
On August 6, a Bench headed by Justice Khanwilkar had directed all pending matters in Delhi to be transferred to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Saket, and accordingly directed the CMM to dispose of all the cases expeditiously, within 8 weeks.
On that day, the Centre had informed Supreme Court that look out notices issued against foreign nationals for their alleged involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities at Delhi's Nizammuddin Markaz had been withdrawn. Thus, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had 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 Court that 10 out of the 34 original petitioners had chosen to contest the criminal cases against them instead of opting for a plea bargain. The SG had 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. Agreeing with this suggestion, the Court had Ordered as follows-
"…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."
On the issue of sending the foreign nationals back to their home countries, SG Mehta 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 who were facing trial had the option of going in for a plea bargain.
Recording these submissions of the Solicitor, the Bench had also 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."
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.