On Monday, 29th June 2020, the Supreme Court has instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to clarify its position with respect to the status of visas of 2,500 people from 35 different countries. These foreign nationals are none other than the people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi. The movement of Jamaat received widespread criticism throughout the country as many people traveled to remote parts of the country and tested positive for the virus, resulting in allegations of spreading the infection.
The apex court bench hearing the matter comprised of Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Maheshwari, and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. It asked the union government to place on record whether individual notices have been issued regarding visa cancellation. The hearing took place through video-conferencing medium and has been postponed to 2nd July 2020 for further adjudication.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Advocate Rajat Nair appeared on behalf of the Union government. They were told by the bench that the government should explain what these people are doing in Indian territory if their visa has been canceled. Advocate Nair said that copies of the petitions have not been served upon them and sought time to file a reply.
The matter has been taken up with the bench clubbing these petitions filed by foreign nationals. The court has clarified that cancellation of visa should be on a case to case basis by the Ministry of Home Affairs and is now seeking information regarding such actions taken by the aforementioned ministry. Appearing on behalf of the petitioners, Senior Advocate CU Singh pointed out that there was no individual consideration but a blanket ban by the ministry resulting in a problematic scenario for these people. Authorities have taken away their passports resulting in the subsequent loss of liberty and these non-citizens are forced to stay in institutions with limited liberty.
Currently, the court’s point of view is that a press release was issued by the ministry which has no effect on the status of visas as for its cancellation, a subjective investigation should take place. On 26th June 2020, the court asked advocates of the petitioners to serve copies to union representatives. A total of 4 petitions have been filed challenging union’s orders dating 2nd April 2020 and 4th June 2020 which affect more than 2500 people.
The petitions have been filed by Advocate FA Ayubbi and drafted by Advocates Ibad Mushtaq and Ashima Mandla. They contended that the ‘en-masse’ blacklisting of foreigners without any opportunity to defend themselves is a blatant violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The petition states that the immediate blacklisting, registration of FIRs which led to the forfeiture of passports resulted in complete deprivation of personal liberty without any procedure established by law.
It pointed out that the home countries of these foreigners are increasingly becoming worried and their embassies have started asking for their return repeatedly. The petitions seek to get the court to order the Ministry of Home Affairs to lift this ban along with reinstatement of visas and assistance in return by the Ministry of External Affairs.