The Indian Union Muslim League on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court against a Union home ministry notification allowing 13 districts to accept, verify and approve citizenship applications from members of minority communities hailing from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, reported Bar and Bench.

In a gazette notification issued on May 28, the ministry said that “minority community” would include Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians, belonging to the three neighbouring countries, who are residing in the aforementioned states. Significantly, the notification was issued under existing provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955, as rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act have not been framed yet.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December 2019, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, provided they have lived in India for six years, and entered the country by December 31, 2014. Across the country, protests had broken out against the law, which is seen as an assault on secular values inscribed in the Constitution.

On Tuesday, the Indian Union Muslim League, or IUML, noted that the home ministry had told the Supreme Court not to stay the Citizenship Amendment Act as it had yet not framed the rules. In its petition, the IUML contended that the May 28 notification was an attempt to go around this submission to the Supreme Court.

The petition further said that if the applicants are granted citizenship and the Supreme Court strikes down CAA, it would be a “herculean task” and “near impossible” to take back the citizenships given. The petition added:

“Therefore since the Amendment Act is pending adjudication before this court, it would be in the interest of justice, that the operation of the Amendment Act, including such procedures under the Amendment Act for granting citizenship to illegal migrants be stayed until the matter is decided by the court.”

— Indian Union Muslim League's petition

The IUML also said that the sections of the Citizenship Act cited by the home ministry in the notification do not permit the classification of applicants on the basis of religion. “Therefore, the attempt being made by the Respondent Union in whittling down the applicability of the two provisions through an executive order is illegal,” the application said.

Section 5 (1)(a)-(g) of the Act lays down the persons who are eligible to apply for citizenship by registration. Section 6 allows any person, who is not an illegal migrant, to apply for citizenship by naturalisation.

The petitioner also argued that the home ministry order does not withstand the test of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution as it treats applicants unequally on the basis of religion.

The IUML was the first party to move the Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act even before it got assent from the president.

Under the home minister’s order, district collectors at Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat; Durg and Balodabazar in Chhatisgarh; Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan; Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab, have been given powers to carry out the process of verification of the applications for citizenship. Similar powers have been given to the home secretaries of Haryana and Punjab.

In 2018, the Centre had granted similar powers to collectors and home secretaries of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi with regard to certain districts.