The Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Citizenship Amendment Act does not affect the “legal, democratic and secular” rights of any citizens, and that the law passed by Parliament may not be “within the scope of judicial review”, Bar and Bench reported.
“Matters concerning the sovereign plenary of the Parliament, especially in regard to citizenship, cannot be questioned before the court by way of a public interest petition,” the government said, responding to petitions challenging the validity of the citizenship law.
In a 129-page affidavit, the Centre said the law will only give the rights of citizenship to eligible members from classified communities and will not affect the rights of people that existed before the amendment.
“CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] does not impinge upon any right that may have existed prior to the enactment of the amendment and further, in no manner whatsoever, seeks to affect the legal, democratic or secular rights of any of the Indian citizens,” the government said.
The Centre said that the citizenship law only seeks to provide relief to people from persecuted communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. “The Citizenship Amendment Act is a benign piece of legislation which seeks to provide a relaxation, in the nature of an amnesty, to specific communities from the specified countries with a clear cut-off date,” the government said in its affidavit.
The government added the Citizenship Amendment Act is a “narrowly-tailored” legislation and its purpose is not to provide answers to “all or any kind of purported persecution”. “The constitutionality of such a legislative measure ought to be tested within that legislative domain and cannot be conflated to extend beyond that object and the reasons behind the Parliamentary cognizance of the issue,” it said.
In its affidavit, the government also defended the classification of religious groups that will be granted citizenship, saying that has the power distinguish individuals for the purpose of legislation.
The Centre also told the top court that the National Register of Citizens is a necessary exercise to categorise “citizens and non-citizens”.
Petitions against the Citizenship Amendment Act
More than 100 petitions have been filed against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh filed one of the petitions, arguing that the citizenship 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 had also challenged the amendments’ constitutional validity after the law was contested by the Indian Union Muslim League.
In January, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to file its response to the petitions.
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.
The Citizenship Amendment Act guarantees 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, that excludes Muslims, has been criticized as being discriminatory.