The Supreme Court fixed the hearing in 220 petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 on October 31 and said it will refer the case to a three-judge Bench.
The petitions came up before a Bench of Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit and S. Ravindra Bhat on September 12 after a hiatus of many months. The hearing of the case was interrupted by the pandemic.
Chief Justice Lalit asked the parties, including the Centre, to draw a "road map" highlighting the issues involved in the case, their division into various segments and the formulation of questions of law.
Lawyers said petitions linking the CAA with the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) ought to be a different segment of its own and heard separately.
The CAA fast-tracks the citizenship-by-naturalisation process for "illegal migrants" from six religious communities, other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The Act and its implementation had seen ordinary citizens, including students, professionals, and mothers, protest across the country. Police action on the protestors had drawn heavy criticism.
The government had maintained that the amendments made to the Citizenship Act of 1955 was meant to protect and welcome religiously persecuted people fleeing the three neighbouring countries where Muslims form the majority.
The apex court had earlier issued a formal notice admitting the petitions filed by people from all walks of life and faiths, from parliamentarians to retired High Commissioners and service officers to lawyers, students, activists, professional associations to Opposition political parties, cutting across regions and ideology and NGOs.
The petitions have argued that the law welcomes "illegal migrants" into India selectively on the basis of their religion and pointedly excludes Muslims. It has an "unholy nexus" with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise and is against principles of secularism, right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the Basic Structure of the Constitution, the petitions said.
The petitions said the Act selectively agrees to grant citizenship benefits to illegal migrants from only three countries. Besides, the new law does not impose any requirement on illegal migrants to prove their claim of religious persecution or even a reasonable fear of it. The petitions have argued that the legislation effectuates discrimination on the basis of the intrinsic and core identity of an individual, that is, his religious identity as a Muslim. While Muslim migrants would have to show their proof of residency in India for at least 11 years, the law allows illegal migrants from the six communities to be naturalised in five years time.