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Who is to blame for virus going viral from Nizamuddin?
April, 06th 2020

Government agencies are playing a passing-the-buck game on who was responsible for allowing the congregation at the Tablighi Jamaat centre in Nizamuddin, from where a large number of COVID-19 cases across the country have been traced, at a time orders were in place prohibiting large gatherings.

Also read | Who are the Tablighi Jamaat?

The Delhi Police, the local municipal corporation as well as the Delhi government, are yet to come clean on the issue and fix accountability on those responsible for Nizamuddin becoming the single largest source of COVID-19 infections in the country.

At a time when robust efforts are needed to fix accountability, there’s little doubt that a common sense approach could have prompted the Tablighi Jamaat to cancel the March 13-15 ijtema, or congregation, given that the virus went viral from a similar February 28-March 1 gathering in Malaysia.

Since COVID-19 cases started appearing from the Tablighi’s Nizamuddin centre, many Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders blamed the city police for not enforcing Delhi government bans on large gatherings of people.

 

On March 13, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, announced that “all sports gathering/conferences/seminars beyond 200 people” were prohibited in Delhi.

“We have told all Sub-Divisional Magistrates and District Magistrates that all orders from the Health Department on COVID-19 should be followed strictly and if anyone violates it, action will be taken immediately,” Mr. Sisodia had said.

Again, on March 16, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, announcing a ban on any gathering of more than 50 people in Delhi had said, “If protesters or any other groups still continue to gather in large numbers then apt actions under the Epidemic Disease Act will be taken by the area DMs, SDMs.”

Addressing the press on March 31, Mr. Kejriwal had said that action would be taken against officials if found negligent in the matter and no one would be spared. “Many people are saying that this letter was written to that officer on this date and he did not take any action, etc. If any officer is found to be negligent, he would not be spared,” the Chief Minister had said.

But “action”, if any, is not in the public domain.

On March 31, Mr. Kejriwal “ordered” the registration of an FIR against a cleric at the Tablighi Jamaat centre even though time and again he has pointed to the fact that the Delhi Police reports to the Union Home Ministry and not the Delhi government. When contacted, a government spokesperson said that it was not aware of the religious congregation at the centre.

To a question about the enforcement of Delhi government orders banning large gatherings, the official said that it was primarily the duty of the police to enforce it. Commenting on the statements made by Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Sisodia that SDMs and DMs should take action, the spokesperson said that the government would look into it.

“Right now, we are handling the cases that are coming from the Tablighi centre and testing is still not over. We will look into whether there was any neglect too,” the official said. Deputy Commissioner (South-East) Harleen Kaur, and SDM (Defence Colony) Vinod Yadav did not respond to multiple calls and messages.

“It is not our duty to check what is going on in different parts of the city. Once the incident came to light and after getting orders, we helped in the evacuation of people from the Markaz (centre) with the help of police,” a senior Delhi Health Department official said, when asked about actions taken by the department while people were still at the centre.

The Delhi Police, for its part, has been unable to explain their role in implementing March 16 Delhi government order over restrictions of more than 50 people for a religious or social purpose.

 

“From March 16 onwards, a police team from Hazrat Nizamuddin police station visited the centre and asked them to clear it and they assured they would adhere to the Delhi government orders,” said a police officer. By this time, of course, the congregation at the Nizamuddin centre was already over. Also, the Delhi government ban on gatherings of more than 200 people was issued on March 13, the day the congregation began.

Later, on March 24, a police officer said that a meeting was held with Tablighi Jamaat officials at the Hazrat Nizamuddin police station where the imposition of the lockdown and repercussions if they didn’t follow were explained to them. The evacuation process from the centre began only after this.

It may be recalled that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for a “janata curfew” for March 22, he announced the ongoing nationwide lockdown to tackle the spread of COVID-19 only at 8 p.m. on March 24.

At a meeting convened by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) on February 4, municipal corporations in the city had also been instructed to track all foreign tourists in their respective jurisdiction residing in hotels and guest houses and provide daily updates.

Senior South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) officials said that the foreigners residing at the Nizamuddin centre were not covered under this as they were residing at a religious centre and not in a guest house/hotel.

The municipal corporations compiled information on the foreign tourists in their jurisdiction by procuring details from the managers of hotels and guest houses registered with them, an official said.

As such, the responsibility of screening individuals coming from abroad was the responsibility of the authorities at the airport and the civic bodies were not involved in any screening activity, civic officials claimed

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