The Kerala government has challenged the amendments to the Citizenship Act in the Supreme Court, Live Law reported on Tuesday. Kerala is the first state to do so even as protests are underway in several parts of the country. The Supreme Court is already hearing several petitions challenging the amendments.

The state government filed its suit under Article 131 of the Constitution, according to which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to the exclusion of other courts in cases between states and Centre or between states.

The suit also challenged the validity of the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules 2015 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Order 2015, which regularised the stay of non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they had entered India before 2015 and if they fled due to religious persecution.

The Union of India was made the defendant in the suit. It will be represented by the secretary of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 and signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 13, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in last month’s protests against the law. Of these, 19 died in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka.

The suit said that being forced to implement the amended Citizenship Act or the Passport Rules or the Foreigners Order resulted in “a legal dispute” as they were “manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational and violative of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 21 and 25”.

The petition also said that the religion-based exclusion or inclusion of migrants was religious discrimination. The classification of migrants and countries in the amended Citizenship Act was not based on any “intelligible differentia” and had no rationale, it said. The amendments also violated the secular character of the Indian Constitution by connecting citizenship and religion, it added.

Challenged CAA as it was against constitutional ethos: Kerala CM

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state had moved the Supreme Court against the legislation as it was contradictory to constitutional ethos.

“Kerala will remain to be in the forefront to defend the Indian Constitution and the fundamental rights of Indian citizens,” Vijayan said in a Facebook post. “The suit instituted by the state government in the Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, which is contradictory to constitutional ethos, is part of our intervention to protect civil rights from within the constitution.”

The chief minister said secularism is a fundamental characteristic of the Constitution. He urged chief ministers of other states to uphold the Constitution and intervene in the matter.

“The united voice of the people are rising. Kerala shall seek every possible measure to sustain the democracy in the country in all its vibrancy,” he added.

State Industries Minister EP Jayarajan told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram district that the state would explore all options to fight the amendments to the Citizenship Act, PTI reported. “The state government will to go to any extent and continue its fight against CAA,” he said. “This Act destroys the democracy in the country.”

Jayarajan added: “This [the citizenship law] will only help in implementing the RSS agenda, to drive the nation through a fascist regime, and destroying the secularism and democracy in the country.”

He asserted that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Sangh Parivar cannot implement the law by just using muscle power.

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On December 31, the Kerala Assembly passed a resolution against the amended citizenship law. Pinarayi Vijayan, a strong critic of the CAA and the NRC, had then said the amended law was against the secular outlook and fabric of the country and would lead to religion-based discrimination in granting citizenship.

Last month, the state had stopped all work connected to the National Population Register too. The chief minister has repeatedly expressed his disappointment with the amended legislation and refused to implement it in his state. The population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is described as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.

On January 3, Vijayan wrote to his chief ministers in 11 states ruled by parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party, and asked them to take measures against the Citizenship Amendment Act. He wrote that the need of the hour was unity among all Indians “who wish to protect and preserve our cherished values of democracy and secularism”.