The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing on a slew of petitions contesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) of 2019.
A panel comprising Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi granted the Assam and Tripura governments two weeks to file responses to the petitions. It also nominated two lawyers as nodal counsel in the group of cases contesting the Act’s constitutionality.
Advocate Pallavi Pratap, counsel for petitioner Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), and counsel for the Central government Kanu Agrawal were appointed as nodal counsel to make a compilation of all relevant documents.
At least 220 applications were filed against the CAA before the Supreme Court.
On December 11, 2019, Parliament passed the CAA, which was met with demonstrations across the country. The CAA became effective on January 10, 2020.
A Kerala-based political party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, Congress leader and former union minister Jairam Ramesh, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi, Congress leader Debabrata Saikia, NGOs Rihai Manch and Citizens Against Hate, Assam Advocates Association, and law students, among others had filed a plea before the top court challenging the Act.
In 2020, the Kerala government also filed a suit in the apex court becoming the first state to challenge the CAA.
The law fast-tracks the process of granting citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and took refuge in India on or before December 31, 2014.
The top court had earlier issued notice to the Centre and refused to pass an interim order staying the law without hearing the Centre.
The Centre had filed its affidavit before the apex court saying that the CAA Act is a “benign piece of legislation” which does not affect the “legal, democratic or secular rights” of any of the Indian Citizens.
The CAA does not violate any fundamental right, the Centre had said while terming the legislation legal and asserted that there was no question of it violating constitutional morality.
The petitions contended that the Act, which liberalises and fast-tracks the grant of citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, promotes religion-based discrimination.
The amendments have also been challenged on several other grounds, including violation of secularism, Articles 21 (right to life), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 19 (right to freedom), as well as provisions on citizenship and constitutional morality.
The plea filed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has said that the Act is a “brazen attack” on core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution and treats “equals as unequal”.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 was revised by the 2019 Act, making illegal migrants eligible for citizenship if they (a) belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities and (b) are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. It only applies to people who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. Certain localities in the Northeast are exempt from the rule, according to the modification.