Observing that Nagpur Police had exceeded their jurisdiction, the Bombay High Court quashed the FIRs registered against nine Muslim citizens of Myanmar, who had been booked for allegedly participating in Tablighi activities. The HC noted that these Myanmar nationals had merely recited verses from the Quran and Hadith and offered namaaz at a Markaz.
A bench of Justices VM Deshpande and Amit Borkar said, "We are of the opinion that the investigating authorities acted without any jurisdiction in registering the FIR under section 188 (for disobeying orders of public servant) of the Indian Penal Code based on a complaint of police. The investigation conducted by the police was also without jurisdiction."
"We are of the opinion that allowing the prosecution to continue would be nothing but an abuse of the process of the court in as much as there was an express legal bar against the institution of FIR against the accused based on the police report," the judges added.
The bench was seized with the pleas of nine men, all in the range of 50 to 60 years, challenging the chargesheet filed by Nagpur Police, which had registered FIRs against them in March, for Tablighi activities.
According to the Mynmar nationals, they had landed in Kolkata, India, on March 2 and flown to Delhi, where they lived till March 5. Later, these men travelled to Nagpur by train and as per the law, informed local police, about their arrival.
On the Janata Curfew day, they were shifted to a local masjid and kept in isolation. Then in April, they were quarantined at the MLA hostel isolation centre at Nagpur, only to be formally arrested in April for violating provisions of the Foreigners Act and for preaching religious education.
In their chargesheet, police primarily relied on the statements of a few witnesses, who stated that these men had lived in local masjids and had recited the Quran, Hadiths and also offered namaaz. They had acquainted themselves with Indian Muslim culture but since they were not conversant with the local language, they recited Quaran and Hadith in their language, the witness stated.
Having perused the statements, the bench said, "The statements make it clear that there is no material produced by the prosecution to prove that these men were engaged in Tabligh work and were involved in preaching religious ideology or making speeches in religious places. There is no material produced by the prosecution in the chargesheet which even prima facie proves these allegations."
"There is no material on record to prove that these men had indulged in any act which was likely to spread infection of Covid -19. Therefore, from the material produced in the charge sheet, there is no evidence to substantiate the fulfilment of ingredients of any laws that are invoked against them," the bench held.
The judges further said that the police had erred in launching a prosecution against them.
"No FIR could have been registered by the police for any punishable offence. We are of the considered view that the implication of these men under the provisions of Indian Penal Code, the Foreigners Act, the Epidemic Disease Act, and also the Disaster Management Act, would be an abuse of process of law," the judges said, adding that compelling them to undergo trial would cause "grave injustice".