After clarifying that it will not pass an order postponing any actions under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 without hearing the Centre, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 22 January, gave the government four weeks to respond to all of the petitions challenging the CAA.
A three-judge Bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde was conducting a hearing on the 144 writ petitions filed in court over the controversial law, when they passed this order, which also restrained all high courts from hearing pleas relating to the CAA till it decides on the same.
In a significant development, the bench, which also comprises Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said it would hear the petitions pertaining to Assam and Tripura separately as there are distinct regimes for citizenship in these states based on local accords. The judges also indicated that the matter might be referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench, but did not take a call on this in their order.
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.
It 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 the four-week time period given for the Centre to respond to the petitions is over.
When the court hears the matter after this time, it will decide whether it will agree to the requests for interim relief by several petitioners, who argue that the processes under the CAA (including issue of naturalisation certificates) should be postponed by three months, along with the collection of information for the National Population Register (NPR).
The Quint spoke to petitioners who have challenged the CAA from across the spectrum – from a member of the All India Muslim Majlis e-Mushawat to the lawyers whose petitions were the first to be filed against the CAA as well as the head of the Tripura royal family – to find out what they thought of these developments.
No Stay, No Problem
Though the Supreme Court did not order any interim relief in the case at this time, most of the petitioners were not disappointed, noting that the court said it would consider this at the next hearing.
Navaid Hamid, General Secretary of All India Muslim Majlis e-Mushawat (AlMMM ) said he is satisfied with the court’s decision regarding not issuing a stay order.
“Unless and until the Government of India replied to our petition, how can the court give a stay?” he said. He also stressed that the petitioners had not asked for a stay on Wednesday, drawing a distinction between a postponement and a stay.
"“It’s totally a lie that the court has not given any stay, when the petitioners have not asked for a stay.”" - Navaid Hamid, General Secretary of AlMMM
Civil rights activist Tehseen Poonawala said he is very grateful for the decision taken by the Supreme Court. “They considered that this matter should get settled before April. In any case this act won’t come into operation before April so as long as we have time till April, we are fine,” he said.
"“We are very hopeful that in four weeks when this matter is heard, we would get a stay.”" - Tehseen Poonawala, Civil Rights Activist and Political Analyst
Ehtesham Hashmi, an advocate who filed the first petition after the CAA was notified (some petitions had been filed prematurely before the President gave his assent to it) spoke to The Quint along with his fellow petitioners Muneeb Ahmed Khan, Adeel Talib and Appurva Jain about their views on the court’s judgement.
"“The SC has also given the indication that they might transfer this matter to a constitutional [sic] Bench. We are quite lucky and happy that we have got this order. It a part victory for the entire nation.”" - Ehtesham Hashmi, Advocate
Welcome SC Decision on North East Petitions: Tripura Royal
Pradyot Deb Burman, the head of the Tripura royal family, who was present at the court said he is pleased with the announcement and that they welcome the court’s decision.
“The SC has looked at our matter and evidences that we have show, video evidences that people are crossing the border from Bangladesh, and said that they will segregate Tripura and Assam from the rest of the country, which we welcome,” he said.
"“We are hopeful that in the coming days, it (the cases) will be referred to a constitutional [sic] Bench, we will get relief and CAA will not be enforced in the states of North East.”" - Pradyot Deb Burman, Head of Manikya Dynasty, Tripura
Dr Samujjal Bhattacharjya, an advisor for All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and North East Student Organisation (NESO) was also present at the hearing and is pleased with the decision to segregate the North Eastern related petitions.
"“The ground reality of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya is different. Due to the influx of illegal foreigners, it is a threat to our language, culture and identity.”" - Dr Samujjal Bhattacharjya, Advisor for AASU and NESO
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 31 December 2014.
President Ram Nath Kovind gave assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on 12 December 2019, turning it into an Act. It came into force across the country on 10 January this year.
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