Over 140 petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have been pending for nearly a year in the Supreme Court, leaving petitioners drawn from all walks of life and across the political spectrum “deeply disappointed” over the delay.
“I am deeply disappointed and the case should be taken up for hearing at the earliest,” parliamentarian Jairam Ramesh, one of the petitioners, told The Hindu on Sunday.
The last time the CAA case came up in court was on March 3 this year when Mr. Ramesh’s lawyer, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, made an urgent oral mention before the Chief Justice of India for a stay on the implementation of the law. He had said the case ran the risk of becoming infructuous.
The CJI had indicated referring the case to a Constitution Bench, but said the court may first hear the review petitions pending in the Sabarimala case. The court had asked Mr. Sibal to press for interim orders after the Holi vacation.
However, the physical function of the court was disrupted due to the pandemic by the end of the month. March was the third time the petitioners had sought a stay of the law.
In December 2019, the court had similarly declined a stay while asking the Centre to make an all-out effort to disseminate the actual legislative intent of the citizenship law.
In January 2020, the court, to another plea to stay the law, had said CAA was “uppermost in everybody’s minds”.
Communal riots and violence had rocked the national capital over the anti-CAA protests.
“Since the CAA has been unprecedented in many ways — be it the nature of amendment which strikes at the root of the Basic Structure of the Constitution or the protests it has evoked across the nation or the panic among the people that they will be driven out of the country — it would be in the best interest of all that the Supreme Court hears the case at the earliest and put at rest these issues,” advocate Haris Beeran, who represents the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), said.
The IUML had filed the first petition in the Supreme Court against the CAA in December last year.
Parliamentarian and senior advocate P. Wilson, who represents DMK, said the pendency of the CAA case makes a strong argument for the establishment of Regional Benches of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court can take up and hear constitutional matters like the challenge to CAA on a priority basis while its Regional Benches could deal with the other cases… The Supreme Court’s own statistics shows 63,693 matters pending before it. There are a total 432 matters pending before its various Constitution Benches,” Mr. Wilson explained.
The CAA fast-tracks citizenship-by-naturalisation process for persons from six religious communities, other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The petitions against CAA have argued that a law that welcomes “illegal migrants” into India selectively on the basis of their religion, is against principles of secularism, right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, described the CAA as a “benign” law which does not lead to expulsion, deportation or refoulement of illegal migrants.
It maintained that CAA merely offers “amnesty” without hurting India’s secularism. It relaxes the settled principles of Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians persecuted in the “theocratic States” of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.