Supreme Court to hear arguments on stay of CAA rules on April 9

Govt. refuses to give a statement that it will refrain from implementing the law during the pendency of the case

Updated - March 20, 2024 07:09 am IST

Published - March 19, 2024 02:58 pm IST

Advocates protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Puducherry on March 19, 2024

Advocates protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Puducherry on March 19, 2024 | Photo Credit: S.S. Kumar

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider the question of staying the operation of the rules notified under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA on April 9, days before the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, even as the government refused to make a statement that it would not grant fast-tracked citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan during the pendency of the case.

“I am not ready to make any statement,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said.

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A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud sought to calm the apprehensions of 237 petitioners that the government would go ahead and implement the CAA rules in the meantime.

“They do not even have the infrastructure in place,” Chief Justice Chandrachud told the petitioners’ side, led by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Indira Jaising.

But a not-too-optimistic Ms. Jaising, for Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, cautioned the court against relying on a “hope-and-trust jurisprudence” in favour of the government.

All about Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2024

“But we are here,” the Chief Justice assured her. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate Haris Beeran, for the Indian Union Muslim League, said they should be given liberty to mention in court if the government began the citizenship process under CAA.

Mr. Sibal said if the Centre could wait nearly five years to notify the CAA rules, they could wait till July 2024. He said citizenship, once granted, was irreversible. Fast-tracking citizenship on the basis of the religious identity of a person violated the fundamental rights to non-discrimination and equality under the Constitution. Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj supported the argument, noting that the top court had stayed the controversial farm laws.

Mr. Mehta sought four weeks’ time to file responses to about 20 applications moved separately by petitioners to stay the CAA rules, notified on March 11.

The law officer argued that the law did not prejudice the petitioners. The CAA was aimed to grant citizenship only to “illegal migrants” belonging to persecuted members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

“This law does not take away the citizenship of anyone... Those who have entered by 2014 will be considered for grant or refusal of citizenship,” Mr. Mehta reasoned.

Advocate Nizam Pasha, also for the petitioners, linked the implementation of the CAA to the 19 lakh people excluded from the National Register of Citizens’ (NRC) list in Assam. No affirmative decision had been taken about them. He apprehended that the CAA would now apply to these people. Those who do not belong to “one particular community or religion” would get their citizenship applications processed “all of a sudden” while the Muslims who were out of NRC may face executive action.

“That is prejudice,” he said.

But Mr. Mehta said similar attempts to “mislead” people had been made outside the court. “The NRC is not an issue before the court, only the grant of citizenship under CAA is the issue,” he clarified.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, for a party supporting CAA, illustrated the case of a persecuted Hindu migrant from Balochistan. “How does grant of citizenship to me affect anyone else’s right?” Mr. Kumar asked.

“They will get a right to vote,” Ms. Jaising shot back to objections from Mr. Kumar.

Ms. Jaising said the government should let the petitioners either make good their plea in court for stay or be willing to give a statement that no one would be granted citizenship in the interregnum. “The latter would save us all a lot of time,” she said. The senior lawyer added that they wanted the case to be referred to a larger Bench.

Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, appearing for a group of petitioners from Assam, contended that the CAA and its rules were a threat to the State’s demography. He said 27 districts in Assam were brought under the purview of CAA “for no reason at all”. The lawyer noted that the CAA did not apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the areas covered under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. He said the cut-off date of December 31, 2014 for grant of citizenship under Section 6B(1) of the CAA contradicted Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which mandated deportation for foreigners who had crossed over after March 25, 1971.

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