The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to pass an order staying the Citizenship Amendment Act rules that were notified by the Centre on March 12, reported Live Law. The court also asked the Centre to respond to the clutch of petitions that are challenging the law by April 2.

The three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, was hearing a batch of 237 petitions challenging the validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The court will next hear the matter on April 9.

The court on Tuesday also issued notices on the petitions challenging the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, on which it had not issued notice earlier, reported The Indian Express.

The law was passed by Parliament in December 2019 and was immediately challenged in the Supreme Court. The court had refused to stay it at the time since the rules for the Act’s implementation had not been formulated.

The hearing on Tuesday came days after the Centre notified the rules under the Act.

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for a petitioner, urged the court to direct that no citizenship will be granted under the law until final adjudication of the matter, or to issue a direction that any citizenship granted under the rules will be subject to the court’s verdict, reported Live Law.

“The point is citizenship once granted cannot be terminated under the law,” she said. “Under orders of the court, it’s a different matter.”

However, the chief justice pointed out that the government does not yet have the necessary infrastructure to process citizenship claims under the provisions of the law. He also pointed out that district-level committees to process citizenship applications under the Act have not been established, reported Live Law.

He said that the petitioners can approach the court if citizenship is granted under the law.

This came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, refused to assure the court that no citizenship will be granted under the provisions of the Act while the matter is sub judice.

The Citizenship Amendment Act provides a fast-track to Indian citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities – except Muslims – from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and have entered the country by December 31, 2014.

Petitions in Supreme Court

Several individual politicians, activists and political parties, including the Indian Union Muslim League, the Democratic Youth Federation of India, Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi have filed petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law.

The petition by the Indian Union Muslim League filed on March 12 said that the Act’s linking of citizenship to religion is “prima facie unconstitutional” and ought to be stayed by the Supreme Court.

The rules notified under the Citizenship Amendment Act lay out the procedure by which religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan can acquire Indian citizenship.

The rules empower district-level committees to scrutinise applications and administer an oath of allegiance to those seeking to become Indian citizens. Applicants have to submit any of the nine documents listed by the Union home ministry to prove that they are citizens of Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The Act has been widely criticised for discriminating against Muslims and had sparked massive protests across the country in 2019 and 2020. Indian Muslims fear that the law could be used, in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens, to harass and disenfranchise them. The National Register of Citizens is a proposed exercise to identify undocumented immigrants.

While protests against the Act in the rest of India have focused on the law’s alleged bias towards Muslims, ethnic groups in Assam and the rest of the North East fear that they will be physically and culturally swamped by migrants from Bangladesh.

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