CAA pleas: SC gives four weeks to Centre to respond

New Delhi: Making it clear it will not pass an order without hearing the Centre, the Supreme Court today gave the government four weeks to respond to petitions challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and said a five-judge Constitution bench will hear the matter.

Hearing a batch of 143 petitions, an apex court bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde issued notice to the Centre and restrained all high courts from hearing pleas on the CAA till it decides on the pleas.

The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said it will hear the petitions pertaining to Assam and Tripura separately as the problem with the CAA in these two states is different from rest of the country.

The court made it clear it will not pass any ex-parte order without hearing the Centre on staying the operation of the CAA and exercise of the National Population Register (NPR).

It said the earlier cut off date for citizenship in Assam was 24 March, 1971 and noted that it has been extended till December 31, 2014 under the CAA.

The petitions concerning Tripura and Assam 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 bench said.

The bench said it will decide in-chamber the modalities of hearing the batch of petitions on the CAA and may fix them for day-to-day hearing after four weeks.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the bench the government has been given copies of around 60 pleas out of the 143 petitions. He said it wanted time to respond to all the pleas.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal urged the bench to put on hold operation of the CAA and postpone the NPR exercise for the moment.

The court said it will not grant any stay on the CAA without hearing the Centre on the matter. “Will pass order on granting any interim relief to petitioner opposing CAA after four weeks,” it said.

The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to migrants belonging to 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 assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on 12 December, 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.

The IUML said in its plea that the CAA violates the fundamental Right to Equality and intends to grant citizenship to a section of illegal immigrants by making an exclusion on the basis of religion.

The petition had alleged that the government’s CAA was against the basic structure of the Constitution and intended to explicitly discriminate against Muslims as the Act extended benefits only to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

The plea filed by Ramesh said the Act is a “brazen attack” on core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution and treats “equals as unequal”.

The other petitioners include the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the All Assam Students Union (AASU), the Peace Party, the CPI, NGOs ‘Rihai Manch’ and Citizens Against Hate, advocate M L Sharma, and law students.