Five-judge Constitution bench to decide validity of amended citizenship law
New Delhi, Jan 22 (Agencies): The Supreme Court made it clear on Wednesday that it would not stay the operation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act without hearing the Centre and said that a five-judge Constitution bench would decide its validity.
Seeking response of the central government 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.
“We are not going to pass any ex-parte order without hearing Centre on the aspects of interim relief,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said.
The observation assumes significance as a battery of senior lawyers led by Kapil Sibal and A M Singhvi vehemently sought judicial intervention and demanded that the operation of the CAA and National Population Register (NPR) processes be stopped for a couple of months till apex court decides the petitions.
Taking note of vehement opposition of the Centre, represented by Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the bench observed “according to the government this relief is akin to granting stay on the Act”.
The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said: “The matter is uppermost in everybody’s mind. We will form a five-judge bench and then list the case. Issue notice on all such petitions in which notices were not issued. Attorney General K K Venugopal seeks time to file reply in four weeks.”
It 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.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for some petitioners challenging the validity of CAA, said the issue be referred to a Constitution bench and the NPR exercise be postponed by a couple of months. He also urged the bench to put on hold the operation of the CAA.
The bench said, “Even we think that the matter should be heard by a Constitution bench.”
Venugopal said that after the last hearing on December 18, the apex court had issued notice to Centre in 60 matters but thereafter 83 fresh petitions has been filed and copies of many of them were not served upon them.
“We need to reply to those petitions and six weeks time should be given to us for filing counter affidavits,” the AG said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioners challenging the process of grant of citizenship under the CAA to 40 lakh 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 even violated Assam Accord of 1985, which fixes cut of 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.
Venugopal intervened and urged the Court to hear petitions relating to Assam separately from a batch of anti-CAA petitions and assured the court that the exercise of Assam National Register of Citizenship (NRC) will not be complete until the national list is published by the Registrar General of India.
To this, the bench said that the petitions concerning Assam and Tripura as well as the matters related to Uttar Pradesh, which is going ahead with the implementation of CAA without framing any rules, can be dealt with separately.
The top court observed that Assam’s problem is different from rest of the country as the earlier cut off date for citizenship was March 24, 1971, which under the CAA has been extended to December 31, 2014.
Senior advocate K V Vishwanathan, appearing for some anti-CAA petitioners said, “The operation of the Act should be postponed as their is apprehension among the minority but their is also anguish among the majority class of the country.”
Singhvi said that recently 40,000 people have been recommended by the Uttar Pradesh government to the Centre for grant of citizenship.
“People are being marked as ‘doubtful citizen’ in 19 districts of Uttar Pradesh, which is creating panic among the masses that they will be disenfranchised and taken out of the electoral rolls”, he said.
Singhvi said, “They (UP government) are proceedings ahead even when the rules and regulations under the Act have not been notified. The process needs to be postponed by couple of months and it would not make any difference. Things which have not happened for 70 years cannot be allowed to start in 20 months”.
The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain and Parsi communities who came to the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014.
President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on December 12, last year turning it into an Act.
Several petitions have been filed challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA. Among those who have filed pleas are the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi.