10 days after saying DDMA orders must be followed, Center opposes full reopening of Markaz Nizamuddin Mosque

Ten days after the Center told the Delhi High Court that Markaz Nizamuddin’s Masjid Bangley Wali could be reopened in accordance with the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s Covid-19 guidelines, the union government has opposed the full reopening of all premises and said only a few people verified by police can be allowed to offer prayers there. The DDMA had last week ordered the lifting of all Covid restrictions in the nation’s capital.

“The location of the petitioner (Delhi Waqf Board) is questionable and this particular premises is part of a property in the case which has been seized,” Barrister Rajat Nair, representing the Centre, told the court during the hearing. Hearing of the Waqf Board’s petition for the easing of restrictions at Markaz Nizamuddin where public entry was banned following members of Tablighi Jamaat testing positive for coronavirus in 2020.

Nair further informed the Bench of Judge Manoj Kumar Ohri that on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat, the authorities authorized the offering of namaz by 50 people on the first floor of the mosque. “I have no dispute. I am not saying that these people cannot continue this time in Shab-e-Barat as well as in the holy month of Ramadan. If my learned friend (advocate on the opposite side) accepts this order , I do not dispute that, but if he asks for the reopening of the whole premises, then I have observations to make, ”he said.

When the court asked the lawyer if he had seen the last DDMA order, he replied that “the DDMA order was later”. Nair added that the authorities initially opposed the reopening of the place, but later, given its religious nature, they allowed five people to offer namaz five times a day and, on occasions like Shab-e -Barat and the month of Ramadan, have authorized more people “under their verification by the local SHO”.

Arguing that the same arrangement can be made this time around, he argued, “No one has come forward providing documents showing who is the rightful owner of this particular property…to whom Waqf granted a lease.”

Lawyer Wajeeh Shafiq, representing the Waqf Board, argued that the court was misled by the union government since when 50 people were allowed there were still some DDMA guidelines, but these guidelines are now completely withdrawn.

“They just keep it locked. It is true that it is a mosque. It is a mosque notified in the official gazette. We have the statutory right to control, manage and administer these properties. They interfere with our rights,” Shafiq said.

On February 22, Judge Mukta Gupta had granted time for the Center and the police to file a status report and listed the request, asking for the locks to be removed from the mosque, for a hearing on March 4. Observing that the DDMA’s Covid guidelines will apply to Markaz Nizamuddin as well, the court had in November 2021 ordered a joint inspection of the religious venue. A joint inspection report is already registered and states that Madrasa, Masjid and Hostel in Markaz Nizamuddin are separated from each other.

Seeking to reopen the mosque immediately, the Waqf council told the court last week that the month of Ramzan begins somewhere around April 2 and that Shab-e-Barat is also in March. The lawyer representing the Center and the Delhi Police in response had told the court that the areas of the Markaz Nizamuddin had already been booked after the joint inspection and the only question remained how many people could be allowed to go and pray.

On Friday, Judge Ohri asked the Waqf Board to register the latest DDMA order and scheduled the case for the next hearing on March 11.

The Delhi Waqf Board in the petition filed in February 2021 argued that Masjid Bangley Wali, Madarsa Kashif-ul-uloom and the adjoining hostel located at Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin have been closed since March 2020. The Center previously told the court the premises have been kept “under lock and key” given that Markaz’s management is itself under investigation in the case registered last year by the Crime Branch.

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