The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not grant a stay on the amendments to the Citizenship Act without hearing the Centre, PTI reported. It granted the Centre four weeks to file its reply to the petitions and said that a larger five-judge bench will be constituted to hear matters related to the amended law. The court will decide on interim orders in the next hearing in four weeks.

A bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna began hearing more than 140 petitions on the amendments to the Citizenship Act. Most of the petitions have challenged the controversial law.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, arguing for the Centre, said the government has been given copies of only around 60 of the 143 petitions and said they need time to respond to the petitions that have not been served to it.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal urged the court to stay the operation of CAA and postpone the National Population Register exercise for now but the court said it will not do so without hearing the Centre.

The court agreed to hear petitions related to CAA in Assam and Tripura separately. The court also restrained all High Courts from hearing please related to CAA till it decides petitions. The Centre had filed a petition in the court seeking citizenship law-related pleas filed in the Delhi High Court to be transferred to the top court.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11 last year and notified on January 10, 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, which has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, triggered nationwide protests. At least 26 people died during demonstrations last month – all in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam.

On January 9, the Supreme Court said it would not hear the petitions against the Act until violent protests came to an end. In December, the court had asked the Centre to respond to 60 of the petitions challenging the law by the second week of January.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh filed one of the petitions. In it, he argued that the law had created an “unconstitutional exclusionary regime” that treats “equals as unequal”. All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi moved the top court to preserve India’s “plural, secular, constitutional” democracy. Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra also challenged the amendments’ constitutional validity last month, a day after the law was challenged by the Indian Union Muslim League.

The petitioners against the citizenship law have claimed that the “benefits” for immigrants fleeing religious persecution would end up dividing them on the basis of faith and nationality of origin. One petition was filed by five activists and academics – Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy, Nihil Dey, Irfan Habib and Prabhat Patnaik – and another by the Democratic Youth Federation of India.

On January 14, Kerala became the first state to challenge the constitutional validity of the Act. Most states not ruled by the BJP have refused to implement it, with Kerala and Punjab passing resolutions against it. However, the Centre and Union ministers have said such resolutions are unconstitutional since the law has already been passed by Parliament.

Hours before the court was set to begin its hearing, a group of women protested against the Act outside the Supreme Court late on Tuesday night. They were from Delhi’s Rani Garden area, according to activist group Pinjra Tod. The police forced the women to disperse, and detained one of them, Pinjra Tod added.