Supreme Court refuses to stay Citizenship Amendment Act, gives four weeks to Narendra Modi government to respond
Supreme Court has refused to grant any stay (interim or otherwise) on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register for Citizens or the National Population Register saying that the Centre is free to implement these laws. The apex court, however, gave the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre four weeks to respond to at least 140 writ petitions which challenge the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The Supreme Court today granted a period of four weeks to the Centre to file its counter in all the petitions filed in the matter
However, the apex court passed no orders on stay of the implementation of the Act or any of the exercises it stipulates
The Bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde along with Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna took the matter up for hearing this morning, following the issuance of notice in the pleas in December 2019
Court was urged to postpone the implementation of NPR exercise by a few months. It was argued that that the same would cause irreversible changes as regards the status of one's citizenship
The Supreme Court has refused to grant any stay (interim or otherwise) on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register for Citizens or the National Population Register saying that the Centre is free to implement these laws. The apex court, however, gave the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre four weeks to respond to at least 140 writ petitions which challenge the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justice A Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjiv Khanna has also issued notices on all petitions. The matter will be listed after five weeks, reports have said. Most of these 140 petitions challenged the validity of the Act with a handful in support of the Act. The bench, however, issued notice to the Centre and restrained all high courts from hearing pleas on the CAA till it decides on the pleas. The court also said that it will look at the Assam issue differently, however, it clarified that the same is for court's benefit. All the matters will be heard together.
Key takeaways from Supreme Court hearing
- The Supreme Court has refused to grant an interim stay on CAA or NRC or NPR and the government is free to implement those laws
- SC will consider hearing pleas related to Assam and Tripura separately after Centre files its reply within two weeks
- The Centre will have to file replies on all other CAA-related pleas (except those about Assam and Tripura) within four weeks
- The SC has not referred the matter to a Constitution Bench as of now. However, it showed a strong inclination to do that. It said a five-judge Constitution Bench will be set up to hear the matter
- The Supreme Court has also asked the high courts not to entertain any pleas on CAA until the apex court decides the matter.
The Supreme Court made it amply clear that it will not pass any ex-parte order without hearing the Centre on staying the operation of the CAA and exercise of the NPR. 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 further added. 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.
What happened in Supreme Court
Attorney-General KK 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.
Sibal pointed out that the process of NPR was scheduled to start in April and added that this process should probably be rescheduled for later. Senior counsel Vikas Singh urged the Supreme Court bench for interim order today and raised the issue of the situation in Assam. Bobde asked him to serve a copy of the petition to the Centre if he wants to argue on the question. " We are not going to pass an ex parte order without the copy being served to the Centre," Bobde said.
Singh said that there is a "unique situation in Assam." When the cut-off date was extended from 1948 to 1971, it was challenged before the court and the same is pending to be considered by a Constitution Bench. He further added that there was an understanding that prior to 1971, there was persecution and the persecuted persons have come. "But there is no justification for people coming after 1971." The bench said the earlier cut off date for citizenship in Assam was 24 March, 1971 and noted that it had been extended till 31 December, 2014 under the CAA.
Rajeev Dhavan at this point made a suggestion: petitioners be heard on two questions: One, whether the matter needs to be heard by a Constitution Bench; and two, would there be an irreversible situation?
The CJI reminded the lawyers that the court also has to hear the Sabarimala case, to which senior counsel Indira Jaising intervened and said, "Priorities will have to be set, My Lord." Everyone has a right to exercise judicial remedy, says Bobde. If orders are passed on a batch of petitions, others may say they have been left out, the CJI added and mulled over waiting till 99 petitions of the petitions have come in and the service is complete.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi suggests that the matter be referred to a Constitution Bench and in the meantime, the service and other process may be complete. Sibal, meanwhile, suggested that the NPR process may be postponed by a few months.
Appearing for the Centre, Venugopal opposed the suggestion of "stay". Sibal said they are not seeking a stay on the Act, but merely a postponement of a process under the Act. Bobde tells Sibal, "You are asking for a stay without using the express words of stay."
According to reports, KV Viswanathan stepped in to highlight the urgency and the need for the process of NPR to be postponed on the grounds that the exercise provides for "doubtful" status on one's citizenship. A batch of petitioners raising the Assam issue seek to be heard and for notice to be issued.
Singhvi brings up the issue of "doubtful citizen" raised by KV Viswanathan, and tells the court that in Uttar Pradesh, several households have already been marked out to hint at doubtful status. Sibal adds that these people may lose voting rights.
What the bench said
Bobde identified that the challenge to CAA will have to be bifurcated in two sections — one, concerning Tripura and Assam and another one concerning CAA generally.
The CJI further added that notice will be issued on all petitions. Attorney General sought a period of six weeks to file counters on the grounds that about 80 more petitions have been filed. Petitioners, at this point, oppose his request for granting six weeks.
Bobde said some small matters may be heard in chamber by the court and for this, one or two persons on each side may be deputed by the leading counsel. The court also hinted at setting up a five-judge bench to hear the case. The matter will be listed after five weeks for interim orders.
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