The Supreme Court today, hearing over 140 filed petitions related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), refused to block the CAA for the time being. The court said that only a constitution bench of five judges could give interim relief to the petitioners.
The court asked the union government to file replies on the new petitions in four weeks. The government has got two weeks to reply to the cases pertaining to Assam and Tripura.
At the same time, the Delhi High Court has stayed the hearing on the petitions filed against the CAA. The cases of Assam and Tripura were separated by the Supreme Court.
Out of the 144 petitions, many were of interested parties like Muslim organisations or lawyers who are also politicians of opposition parties. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), for example, in its petition had alleged CAA was against the basic structure of the Constitution of India as it intended to grant citizenship to a section of immigrants and excluding others on the basis of religion. It said that the law was discriminatory against Muslims, benefiting only persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
CAA, which triggered riots by misled crowds across the country, allows citizenship (subject to application) to migrants who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain or Parsi if they arrived in the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before 31 December 2014.
“The impugned act (CAA) creates two classifications, viz, classification on basis of religion and the classification on the basis of geography and both the classifications are completely unreasonable and share no rational nexus to the object of the impugned act i.e., to provide shelter, safety and citizenship to communities who in their native country are facing persecution on grounds of religion,” Jairam Ramesh’s plea said.
“Because of the unmanageable crowd, we may hear some small matters in chambers and lawyers can come in chambers,” the CJI said towards the beginning of the arguments. A bench of CJI SA Bobde, Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice S Abdul Nazeer heard the 144 petitions in the Supreme Court.
Kapil Sibal, arguing against the CAA, said the court must first decide whether the petitions ought to be referred to a constitution bench. “We are not asking for a ban but this process can be postponed for three weeks,” he said.
Another advocate against the CAA Abhishek Manu Singhvi claimed that the process of granting citizenship had started. According to him, 30,000 people had been picked as citizens in Uttar Pradesh. Sibal added to that, saying a date should be fixed for hearing soon in February on the same issue.
Singhvi said that in Uttar Pradesh, the process of validating 40 lakh people in 19 districts was questionable. “Is it not enough to create fear in people?” he posed. “If the process was not done in 70 years, it cannot be avoided until March,” he said.
The CJI said, “This matter is uppermost in everyone’s mind,” adding that the court could ask the government to give provisional citizenship for the moment. “We cannot ban it (CAA) unilaterally,” he said.
A petition said that Bengal and Assam were “special states”. There is the issue of Bangladeshis in Assam. Half of them are Hindus from Bangladesh and half are Muslims. There are 40 lakh Bangladeshis in Assam. Half of the people will get citizenship under this law. This will change the entire demography. Therefore, the government should be stopped from taking steps for the present, the petition urged.
To that, the CJI said it was important that the court listened to 99% of the petitioners and issue orders after that. “If we issue an order after listening to the Centre, the rest of the petitioners will say that ‘we have not been heard’,” he said.
Singhvi and Sibal argued that the matter must be referred to a constitution bench. Sibal said, until then, the process should be postponed for two months.
The attorney general objected to this and said that this would virtually be a stay. The CJI said this case could be referred to a constitution bench while the court could hear the issue of stay later.
The court said it would take two weeks to reply on the petitions related to Assam.
In response to all the petitions against the CAA, the apex court issued a notice to the Centre and asked it to file the reply. The union government has sought four weeks to file its reply.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, accepting that the Assam and Tripura cases were different, asked the petitioners for a list of cases of the two states.