SC seeks Centre’s response in 4 weeks on challenge to the Act.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it would not stay the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act without hearing the Centre and added that a five-judge Constitution bench would decide the validity of the new law.
Seeking the Central government’s response in four weeks on a batch of pleas challenging the CAA, the top court also restrained high courts in the country from proceedings with pending petitions on the issue.
“The matter is uppermost in everybody’s mind. We will form a five-judge bench and then list the case,” a bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjeev Khanna said while turning down the plea for interim stay on CAA for a couple of months as grant of citizenship to religiously persecuted migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be irreversible.
Wondering how any exercise was irreversible, CJI Bobde said, “I don’t think anything is irreversible,” with attorney general K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Central government, adding, “There are provisions in the law itself to revoke the citizenship.”
The bench said the court would hear some of the petitions in-chambers for deciding the modalities and thereafter a five-judge bench would be constituted after four weeks for day-to-day hearing on a batch of 143 petitions.
The court also made it clear the matter relating to Assam and Tripura would be heard separately as the issues relating to CAA in these two states were different from the rest of the country.
Senior counsel Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioners challenging the process of grant of citizenship under the CAA to 40 lakhs Bengali Hindus, who had migrated from
Bangladesh to Assam and Tripura, said that the Act will create a peculiar situation and huge agitations are going on in these states.
He said that the operation of CAA be stayed as it violated Assam Accord of 1985, which fixes cut-off date for grant of citizenship as March 24, 1971.
“Assam is facing a peculiar situation due to the migrants coming from Bangladesh as earlier cut off date for grant of citizenship was 1950, then cut of date was extended to March 24, 1971. This extension has been challenged before the apex court and the matter is pending,” he said.
Another senior counsel, K.V. Vishwanasthan, said that marking people as “doubtful” citizens was creating a huge problem as there are apprehensions of them being disfranchised.
“There was insecurity, amongst the minorities and anguish amongst the Hindus,” Mr Vishwanathan told the bench.
On the larger issue, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for one the petitioners opposing the CAA, told the bench that they were not asking for stay of the law under challenge but were only asking for the “postponement” of its implementation.
Mr Sibal was joined by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi who told the court that if this process has not started for last 70 years it can sure wait for another two months.
Referring to Uttar Pradesh, Mr Singhvi said that even without framing of the rules for the implementation of the amended citizenship law, in 19 districts over 40,000 people have been tick-marked for verification and this is creating anxiety amongst the people.
Opposing their plea, Mr Venugopal said postponement was as good as staying the law itself.
The top court is flooded with the petitions challenging the amended Citizenship Act that provides for grant of Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians facing religious persecution in three neighbouring countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
It has been contended by the petitioners that besides being violative of the secular principles an spirit — a component of the basic structure of the Constitution — the amended law is in breach of Articles 14, 21 and 25.
Starting with Indian Union Muslim League, the controversial law has been challenged by the Kerala government, Communist Party of India, TMC Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra, Congress law maker in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh, former high commissioner Deb Mukherjee, All Assam Students Union and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, among others.
They have contended that religion based citizenship is a negation of secularism and it’s discriminatory.
Uttar Pradesh-based Peace Party, Rihai Manch, Citizens Against Hate, Ehtesham Hashmi, Pradyot Deb Barman, Jan Adhikaar Party, advocate M.L. Sharma and students from Symbiosis Law School too have challenged the amended citizenship law.
The petition by the leader of Opposition in Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, says that the amended citizenship law violated the Assam Accord.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has contended in his PIL that the amended citizenship law is a “brazen attack on the core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution (and) ex facie violates the fundamental guarantees under Article 14 as also Article 21 of the Constitution.”
He has said that the citizenship law under challenge has been enacted “disregarding the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee dated 07.01.2019 as also the terms of the accord between AASU, AAGSP and the Central government on the Foreign National Issue signed on 15.08.1985 (Assam Accord).”