New Delhi, January 21: A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde will on Wednesday hear 144 petitions against and in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 which fast-tracks citizenship-by-naturalisation process for “illegal migrants” from six religious communities other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The other two judges on the Bench are Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna. The first petition listed for hearing is the one filed by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which has sought an immediate stay on the implementation of the CAA. The court may also consider submissions made for a reference of the petitions to a Constitution Bench.
The government has already notified the implementation of the law on January 10. In the previous hearing on December 18, the Supreme Court had refused to stay its implementation. The Act has triggered protests by ordinary citizens, including students, professionals, mothers, across the country.
Police action on the protesters had drawn heavy criticism.
The Chief Justice, in the last hearing, had highlighted to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal the need for the government to publicise the objectives of the Act.
The government has maintained that the amendments made to the Citizenship Act of 1955 were meant to protect and welcome religiously persecuted people fleeing the three neighbouring countries where Muslims form the majority.
The top court had on December 18 issued a formal notice admitting the petitions filed by people from all walks of life and faiths: parliamentarians, retired High Commissioners, service officers, lawyers, students, activists, professional associations, Opposition political parties and NGOs.
The petitions argued that the law welcomes “illegal migrants” into India selectively on the basis of their religion and pointedly excludes Muslims. They have submitted that it has an “unholy nexus” with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise and is against the principles of secularism, right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
The petitions said the Act selectively agrees to grant citizenship benefits to illegal migrants from only three countries. Besides the new law does not impose any requirement on illegal migrants to prove their claim of religious persecution or even a reasonable fear of it, the petitions said.
The petitions have argued that the legislation effectuates discrimination on the basis of the intrinsic and core identity of an individual, that is, his religious identity as a Muslim. While Muslim migrants would have to show their proof of residency in India for at least 11 years, the law allows illegal migrants from the six communities to be naturalised in five years’ time.