5-judge Supreme Court bench to hear CAA

Court refuses to stay law without hearing the Centre’s version.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it would not stay the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) without hearing the Centre and added that a five-judge Constitution bench would decide the validity of the new law.

Seeking the Central government’s response 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.

“The matter is uppermost in everybody’s mind. We will form a five-judge bench and then list the case,” a bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjeev Khanna said, while turning down the plea for interim stay on CAA for a couple of months as the grant of citizenship to religiously persecuted migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be irreversible.

Wondering how any exercise was irreversible, CJI Bobde said, “I don’t think anything is irreversible,” with attorney general K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Central government, adding, “There are provisions in the law itself to revoke the citizenship.”

The bench 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.

The court also made it clear the matter relating to Assam and Tripura would be heard separately as the issues relating to CAA in these two states were different from the rest of the country.

Senior counsel Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioners challenging the process of grant of citizenship under the CAA to 40 lakhs Bengali Hindus, who had migrated from Bangladesh to Assam, said that the Act will create a peculiar situation.

Postpone CAA implementation: Sibal
He said that the operation of CAA be stayed as it violated Assam Accord of 1985, which fixes cut-off 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.

Another senior counsel, K.V. Vishwanathan said marking people as “doubtful” citizens was creating a huge problem as there are apprehensions of them being disfranchised.

“There was insecurity, amongst the minorities and anguish amongst the Hindus,” Vishwanathan told the bench.

On the larger issue, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for one the petitioners opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, told the bench that they were not asking for stay of the law under challenge but were only asking for the “postponement” of its implementation.

Sibal was joined by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi who told the court that if this process has not started for last 70 years it can sure wait for another two months.

Referring to Uttar Pradesh, Singhvi said that even without framing of the rules for the implementation of the amended citizenship law, in 19 districts over 40,000 people have been tick-marked for verification and this is creating anxiety amongst the people.

Opposing their plea, Venugopal said postponement was as good as staying the law itself.

The top court is flooded with the petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act. It has been contended by the petitioners that besides being violative of the secular principles and spirit — a component of the basic structure of the Constitution — the amended law is in breach of Articles 14, 21 and 25.

Starting with Indian Union Muslim League, the law has been challenged by the Kerala government, Communist Party of India, Trinamul Congress Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra, Congress law maker in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh, former high commissioner Deb Mukherjee, All Assam Students Union and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, among others. They have contended that religion based citizenship is a negation of secularism.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that the amended citizenship law is a “brazen attack on the core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution and violates the fundamental guarantees under Article 14.

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