The Supreme Court on Monday issued directions to segregate the batch of petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, and issued a notice to the Centre to file its response within four weeks after the pleas are compartmentalised, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench of Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat adjourned the matter for October 31, and in an oral observation said that the case will be referred to a three-judge bench, PTI reported.

“We just had a discussion on the point that we make a reference to at least three judges of this court,” Lalit said. “What I felt was to let all these preliminaries be over and then we can make a reference.”

More than 200 public interest litigations have been filed against the Act, which provides citizenship to refugees from six non-Muslim religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.

The Act, however, is yet to be implemented as its rules have not been framed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In May, Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the law will be enforced as soon as the pandemic ends.

The petitioners have argued that the Act promotes religion-based discrimination and violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which deals with equality before the law.

The petitions against the Act first came up for hearing on December 18, 2019, according to ANI. The case was last heard on June 15, 2021.

In January 2020, the Supreme Court had given the Centre four weeks to respond to the petitions.

In a 129-page affidavit filed in March 2020, the Union government had submitted that the citizenship law does not affect the legal, democratic and secular rights of any citizen, and that a law passed by Parliament may not be “within the scope of judicial review”.

The Centre had said that the citizenship law only seeks to provide relief to members of persecuted communities living in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The Citizenship Amendment Act is a benign piece of legislation which seeks to provide a relaxation, in the nature of an amnesty, to specific communities from the specified countries with a clear cut-off date,” it added.

However, critics fear that the Citizenship Amendment Act, clubbed with the National Register of Citizens, will be misused to target Muslims in the country.

The National Register of Citizens is meant to be a list of legal Indian citizens. It was compiled after two draft versions and excluded 19 lakh applicants when it was published in Assam in August 2019.