Senior Congress leaders on Saturday said that it would be “constitutionally difficult” or problematic if state governments do not follows laws passed by Parliament. They were referring to the state resolutions against the amended Citizenship Act or the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.
“The states are sending a message to the central government that they are unhappy with the citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register,” former Union minister Kapil Sibal said, according to NDTV. “But the NRC is based on National Population Register and that has to be implemented by a local registrar, who is appointed by the state-level officers. Basically what is being said is we won’t allow state-level officers to cooperate with Union of India... practically, I don’t know if that’s possible. It’s a grey area.”
Sibal was speaking on the sidelines of the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode. “If the CAA is passed no state can say ‘I will not implement it’,” he said. “It is not possible and is unconstitutional. You can oppose it, you can pass a resolution in the Assembly and ask the central government to withdraw it.”
He added: “Constitutionally, it will be difficult for any government to say that I will not pass a law passed by the parliament.” Sibal also said that other parties must let Congress take charge of the protests against the citizenship law.
So far, Kerala and Punjab have passed resolutions in their state Assemblies demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Bihar, where NDA ally Janata Dal (United) is in power, have also said they won’t implement NRC or NPR. Kerala has also challenged the validity of CAA in the Supreme Court.
Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid also said that it would “constitutionally difficult” for a state government to say that it will not follow a law passed by Parliament, PTI reported. “If SC doesn’t interfere it’ll remain on statute book. If something’s on statute book, you’ve to obey it, else there are consequences,” Khurshid said.
“It’s a matter where state governments have a very serious difference of opinion with Centre as far as this law is concerned,” he added. “So, we would wait for final the pronouncement by the Supreme Court. Ultimately, SC will decide and till then everything said/done/not done is provisional and tentative.”
Rajya Sabha MP and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh wondered if the resolutions will stand judicial scrutiny, according to The Indian Express. “I am not so sure whether state governments saying that we will not implement CAA will stand judicial scrutiny,” Ramesh said. “I know that the Kerala government has passed a resolution but it’s a political resolution. Whether it will stand the test of judicial scrutiny, I am not 100% sure.”
“The NPR is an executive action. You are sending out state government employees to gather the information,” he added. “Now the state governments can say that we will not depute our officials, teachers, local revenue officials… The state government can say that we will not have NPR in our state. I’m not 100% sure what the legality is.”
While it was clear that the amended citizenship law is a “clear violation of certain articles of the Constitution”, he said he was not sure if “a state Assembly passing a resolution negating CAA will pass constitutional scrutiny”.
CAA, NRC and NPR
The Citizenship Amendment Act 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. Twenty-six people died in last month’s protests against the law – all in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam.
The BJP has refused to cede ground to the protestors, who have demanded a rollback of all three of the government’s moves. The citizens’ register is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented immigrants, and the government’s critics fear that since a religion criteria has now been added to the Citizenship Act, only Muslims will be disproportionately affected by NRC. The National Population Register is the first step towards NRC. A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court asking the government to explain the link between the two.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have repeatedly lashed out at protestors and Opposition parties for taking to the streets against the citizenship law.