The Supreme Court on Wednesday said there would be no stay on Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) till the government responded to all the petitions against it and gave the Centre four weeks to file its responses.
The court said it will list its orders after four weeks, LiveLaw reported.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, was hearing a batch of 143 petitions, including those filed by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, questioning the constitutionality of the amended law.
The Act has triggered widespread protests across the country and been criticised for discriminating on the basis of religion as it excludes Muslims. According to Scroll, at least 26 people died during demonstrations in December in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam.
During the hearing, the top court considered sending the petitions to a larger bench.
Arguing for the petitions to be sent to a Constitution Bench, Senior advocate Kapil Sibal urged the top court to do something before the NPR process begins in April.
“Kindly postpone the (NPR) process for three months. In the meanwhile, your lordships can decide,” he said, according to LiveLaw.
According to the Indian Express, petitioners sought a date that was close, saying states had already started the process of NPR and citizenship once granted could not be reversed.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi cited the CAA process in Uttar Pradesh and said, “Without any rules being framed 40 lakh people have been marked doubtful. This has happened in 19 districts of UP. Their right to vote will be lost.”
“This process has not happened in 70 years, why not wait two more months? This is happening even without the rules being made,” he said.
CJI Bobde said the challenge to CAA will have to be bifurcated in two section— one concerning Tripura and Assam, and another concerning CAA in general, Bar&Bench reported.
CAA seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim 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.
Some of the petitions, filed later, against CAA sought a stay on the operation of the legislation which came into force on January 10.
The apex court had on January 9 refused to entertain a plea seeking that the CAA be declared constitutional, saying the country is going through difficult times and the court would listen to petitions when “violence stops”.
IUML said in its plea that CAA violated the fundamental Right to Equality and intended to grant citizenship to a section of illegal immigrants by making an exclusion on the basis of religion.
IUML sought an interim stay on the operation of CAA and the Foreigner Amendment (Order), 2015 and Passport (Entry Into Rules), Amendment Rules, 2015.
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 Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, said the Act was a “brazen attack” on core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution and treated “equals as unequal”.
Ramesh said the substantial questions of law, including whether religion can be a factor to either acquire or deny citizenship in India, arose for consideration of the court as it is a “patently unconstitutional” amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955.
“The impugned Act creates two classifications, viz, classification on basis of religion and the classification on the basis of geography and both the classifications are completely unreasonable and share no rational nexus to the object of the impugned Act i.e., to provide shelter, safety and citizenship to communities who in their native country are facing persecution on grounds of religion,” the plea said.
Several petitions have been filed challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA, including by RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi. Several other petitioners include Muslim body Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, All Assam Students Union (AASU), Peace Party, CPI, NGOs ‘Rihai Manch’ and Citizens Against Hate, advocate ML Sharma, and law students have also approached the apex court challenging the Act.
The Kerala and Punjab state assemblies have passed resolutions against CAA and most states not ruled by the BJP have refused to implement it.
At a rally in Lucknow on Tuesday, home minister Amit Shah reiterated the Act would never be withdrawn. “Let me say this here and now, this law will not be withdrawn, no matter who protests... We are not scared of opposition, we were born in it,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)