The Delhi High Court has ordered the transfer of a batch of cases pending against 27 foreign nationals, who attended a Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi, to the Saket district court so that they are swiftly decided.
The foreigners had allegedly indulged in missionary activities in violation of visa norms and defied COVID-19 guidelines.
The court was hearing petitions filed by the foreigners who submitted that they have been released after paying fines in a case but are unable to leave the country due to similar pending FIRs.
Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani directed that the charge sheets arising out of different FIRs mentioned in four petitions be transferred from different trial courts in Delhi to the court of chief metropolitan magistrate, South-East Delhi, Saket district court in Delhi.
The high court, which was hearing the matters through video conferencing, passed the order after the counsel for the foreigners urged it to issue directions similar to the one by the Supreme Court on August 6 on the transfer of cases, and the Centre and the Delhi government said they had no objection to it.
"Accordingly, the present petitions are dismissed as withdrawn with a direction that all charge sheets in all FIRs from which the present cases arise be transferred to the court of the learned CMM, South East, Saket Court Complex, New Delhi, to be decided expeditiously, in accordance with law," the judge said.
The court directed that the records of all these matters be transferred from respective jurisdictional magistrates to the court of chief metropolitan magistrate, Saket court.
Advocate Ashima Mandla, representing the foreign nationals, said in each of these cases, the offences alleged in the FIRs are either the same as those alleged in the earlier FIR, in which they have pleaded guilty or no offence whatsoever was made out.
The counsel said the proceedings in the earlier FIR were closed after they entered into plea bargaining.
Delhi government standing counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra said the state has no objection to this direction being made in all these cases.
Meanwhile, central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul submitted that look out circulars (LoCs) against these foreign nationals were issued by the Bureau of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs at the request and instance of the investigating agency.
Once criminal cases are closed in accordance with law and a request for closing the LoCs is received, the Union of India will have no objection to closing all LoCs and permitting the petitioners to exit the country, he said.
According to the separate petitions, the foreigners said they have already admitted their guilt in the FIR lodged by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police in the matter and pleaded for lenient punishment under the provisions of plea bargaining.
They were allowed to walk free on payment of varying fines and pleading guilty for minor offences related to the COVID-19 lockdown violations, the counsel for the foreigners said, adding that their deportation orders were also issued.
However, they are not able to fly back to their countries due to the pendening FIRs lodged at various police stations here, the counsel said.
When the petitioners wanted to go back to their countries, it transpired that a second FIR is also pending against each of them and the charge sheets have been filed before the trial court, the advocate said.
Out of these 27 petitioners, eight and 19 were nationals of Kyrgyzstan and Indonesia respectively and were arrayed as accused in the charge sheets filed by the police.
Their counsel has contended that the police cannot lodge separate FIRs for the same alleged offence and they are unable to go back due to the LoCs against them.
She said while the first FIR was lodged on March 31, this second FIR by the police was filed later on and added that the foreigners were not informed of these additional FIRs before the Saket court where they pleaded guilty.
The petitioners had sought quashing of two FIRs registered at various police stations under various sections of IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act.
They have also sought directions to the respondents to close the LoCs.
They said that the allegations in the FIRs before this court are similar to the FIR of crime branch, in which 911 of the 955 foreigner Jamaatis have entered into plea bargaining
"Under the law, second FIR is impermissible and there is an operational bar from prosecution of same offences arising out of the corresponding cause of action under Article 20(2) of the constitution of India( widely known as doctrine of double jeopardy) as well as section 300 of the CrPC," the pleas said.
In April, hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members, who had attended the religious congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in the national capital, tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 9,000 people, including the foreign nationals, participated in the religious congregation and later many of them travelled to various parts of the country.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)