The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to put on hold the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which has prompted nationwide protests and gave the BJP-led Centre four-week time to reply to the 144-odd petitions challenging the contentious Act.
The Apex Court made it clear that it would not grant any stay without hearing the government. It also ordered that high courts should not take up cases on CAA before it decided on those pleas.
Petitions linked to Assam and Tripura will be taken up separately as the problem with CAA in these two states is different from the rest of the country, said the three judges bench. The SC bench comprised of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjiv Khanna.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the judges that the government had been given copies of around 60 of those petitions. He requested time to respond to the rest.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal urged the court to defer the implementation of National Population Register (NPR) for the time being.
According to the Citizenship Amendment Act, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship. The Act intentionally leaves out Muslims.
The BJP-led government has said the new law will be followed by a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that means Muslims must prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries. Non-Muslims listed in the law, by contrast, have a clear path to citizenship.
Those who are opposed to the legislation say that it is for the first time that India will grant citizenship on the basis of religion which violates the basic tenets of the country’s constitution. The petitioners include political parties like the Congress, DMK, CPI, CPM, Indian Union Muslim League or IUML, Popular Front of India (PFI), Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam, among others.