The Supreme Court on July 2, 2020, heard a plea which questioned the Ministry of Home Affairs blacklisting of foreign nationals. Because of involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities at Delhi’s Nizammuddin Markaz in March.
Contentions of Tablighi Members
Explicitly, the petitioners, assert that this blacklisting caused registrations of FIRs against them. This also led them to forfeit their passports to the State Administration. Thus, they contend that this is a complete deprivation of personal liberty, with no compliance with the laws. In fact, one of the petitioners is in the seventh month of her pregnancy. She was quarantined in March and released in May. Still, she is confined in a facility and not allowed to go back home.
The petitioners claim that the actions of the Government were baseless and passed on a mere presumption; without any proof that they violated the conditions of their validly granted visas. That is, under the relevant sections of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The petition points out the government nowhere mentions; the prohibited Tablighi activities and what caused the violation of conditions of validly granted visas. Referring to the Home Ministry’s “General Policy Guidelines” relating to Indian Visa; there is no restriction on foreigners visiting religious places or attending religious activities in India.
The Government issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on April 2; about the transportation of foreign nationals stuck in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a short press release on the same day caused no benefit to the Tablighi Jamaat followers.
Article 21 of the Constitution uses the word ‘person’ and not ‘citizen’; to protect a foreigner’s personal liberty, which includes free movement across the country. Therefore, the constitutional rights against preventive detention extend to foreign nationals also. Thus, the Supreme Court must declare the decision as unconstitutional and void – the petitioners assert.
Decision by the Apex Court
The bench considered the Centre’s affidavit; which stated the passing of individual orders for cancellation of visas of the foreign nationals. It further stated that the petitioners have the liberty to make representations; regarding the individual visa cancellation orders before the appropriate authority.
The bench consisting of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari & Sanjiv Khanna passed the order. The bench observed that as the government passed individual orders; the Petitioners should approach respective High Courts to challenge the cancellation orders.
Meanwhile, Senior Advocate CU Singh, counsel for the petitioners asserted that the individual orders for cancellation of visas were just for show. There was no issuance of a show cause notice so the government should deport them. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta replied that there was no enforceable “Right to Return”; if there was any pendency of criminal cases against a foreign national.
The Apex Court has adjourned the next meeting till July 10 to allow the Petitioners to file their Rejoinder affidavits.