The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, was enacted in 1985 on humanitarian grounds after the liberation of Bangladesh and is deeply embedded in India’s history. The provision cannot be equated with the amnesty granted to “illegal immigrants”, Bar and Bench quoted Chief Justice DY Chandrachud as having observed verbally.

The bench headed by the chief justice was hearing petitions seeking that Section 6A of the Act be declared as unconstitutional.

Section 6A was introduced as a special provision under the Act when the Assam Accord was signed between the Centre and leaders of the Assam Movement in 1985. It allows foreigners who came to Assam between January 1, 1966, and March 25, 1971, to seek Indian citizenship.

Indigenous groups in the state have alleged that this provision in the Citizenship Act has legalised the illegal infiltration of migrants from Bangladesh.

Advocate Shyam Divan, representing the petitioners, argued in the court that the provision had caused a “demographic invasion” in Assam with implications for the state’s culture, economy, politics and society, LiveLaw reported.

In response, the bench sought official data on the number of people who have benefited from the provision.

The chief justice questioned whether the demographic and cultural identity of Assam had been altered by granting citizenship to immigrants who entered the state between 1966 and 1971.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that approximately 5.45 lakh individuals had benefited from Section 6A of the Act, LiveLaw reported. The official data will be submitted before the court soon, he said.

The chief justice said that the purpose of the hearing was not to rule on the efficacy of law enforcement but to test the constitutional validity of Section 6A as it is applied to the period between 1966 and 1971. The court cannot decide on the constitutionality of the provision based on subsequent developments.

Chandrachud also emphasised the historical context in which Section 6A was introduced.

“We can’t deny that 6A was enacted at a point which is deeply connected to our history,” he said, adding that India played a vital role in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. “Parliament seems to have proceeded on the basis that the immigration which took place cannot be regarded purely as illegal but it was something humanitarian...on the aspect of the atrocities committed on the population of the then East Pakistan.”