Acting tough, the home ministry has blacklisted 2,550 Tablighi Jamaat members from nearly 40 countries who were staying in India during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown and indulging in missionary activities in violation of visa rules, officials said on Thursday.
These people would not be allowed to enter India for 10 years, they said.
This is perhaps for the first time that the government has blacklisted a large number of people in one stroke and banned their entry into India for such a long duration under the Foreigners Act.
The action has been taken by the home ministry after various state governments provided details of the foreigners who were found to be illegally living in mosques and religious seminaries across the country.
"The home ministry has blacklisted 2,550 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members and banned their entry into India for 10 years," a home ministry official said.
Almost all of these foreign Tablighi Jamaat activists had come to India on tourist visa but were engaged in missionary works, thus violating the visa conditions, the official said.
Action against the foreign Tablighi Jamaat members was first taken after over 2,300 people, including 250 foreigners, belonging to the Islamic organisation were found to be living at its headquarters located at Delhi's Nizamuddin soon after the nation-wide lockdown was announced in March. Several of these members had tested positive for coronavirus.
The lockdown from March 25 was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tablighi Jamaat members were blamed for the spread of coronavirus in more than 20 states and Union Territories with more than a thousand COVID-19 positive cases and over two dozen deaths traced to them.
Among blacklisted members were nationals from nearly 40 nations.
They are: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Russia, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Ukraine.
The government has already decided not to issue tourist visa to any foreigner who wishes to visit India and take part in Tablighi activities.
After finding about their illegal stay in India, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba had also told the states and UTs to take action against foreigners, who have participated in the missionary activities of the Tablighi Jamaat, for violation of visa conditions.
In April, the home ministry had directed DGPs of all the states and UTs, and the Delhi Police Commissioner to take necessary legal action against all such violators, on priority, under relevant sections of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) against the organisers of Tablighi Jamaat for alleged dubious cash transactions and hiding of foreign donations from authorities.
The enquiry was registered on a complaint that the organisers of the Jamaat are indulging in dubious cash transactions through illegal and unfair means, the officials said.
The Delhi Police has also registered a case against the Tablighi Jamaat and its office bearers.
The head of the organisation, Maulana Saad, is still to be apprehended by police.