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No stay on Citizenship Act implementation, says SC

Protests continue:Students raising slogans outside Jamia Millia Islamia University on Wednesday.Sushil Kumar Verma

Protests continue:Students raising slogans outside Jamia Millia Islamia University on Wednesday.Sushil Kumar Verma  

Court says it will hear the 59 petitions on January 22

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, which fast-tracks citizenship by naturalisation process for “illegal” migrants from six religious communities, other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde instead orally suggested to the government to publicise the actual intent of the Act so that there was no confusion among the public about its objectives and aims.

Protests have broken out all over the country since the notification of the Act on December 12.

“There is need to publicise why the Act [CAA] is passed. There is a need for that,” Justice Bobde addressed Attorney General K.K. Venugopal for the Centre. “I agree. We will see to it,” Mr. Venugopal responded.

‘Lot of confusion’

The CJI’s comments came on a submission by advocate A.K. Upadhyay that there was a lot of confusion in the public mind about the objectives of the amended Citizenship Act.

The government has maintained that the amendments made to the Citizenship Act of 1955 were meant to protect and welcome religiously persecuted people fleeing the three neighbouring countries, where Muslims form the majority.

The Supreme Court issued a formal notice admitting 59 petitions filed by people from all walks of life and faiths. The court said it would hear the petitions on January 22.

Wednesday was its last working day before it closed for the winter vacation till January 1.

But lawyers continued to fervently urge the Bench, also comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant, to stay the Act even after the court called the next case.

“We are not going to hear this case today!” Justice Bobde said emphatically.

Mr. Venugopal said there were at least four judgments of the court, which said an Act once notified as law cannot be stayed.

“The Act has not come into existence. Its Rules are yet to be notified,” senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for a petitioner, countered.

During a brief but tense hearing, both the CJI objected to how several lawyers shouting at the same time to be heard by the Bench created an atmosphere of ruckus not befitting the court’s decorum.

“I went to the Pakistan Supreme Court. They have a lectern where only one lawyer addresses the Bench... We should have something like that here,” Mr. Venugopal said.

Petitioners’ arguments

The petitions argue 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 the principles of secularism, right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

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