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Several pleas in SC challenging Citizenship Act

New Delhi: Several petitions, including those by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, were filed in the Supreme Court on Friday challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.

According to the amended Act, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, and face religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.

President Ram Nath Kovind had given assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on Thursday night, turning it into an Act.

Several other petitioners including All Assam Students Union (AASU), Peace Party, NGOs ‘Rihai Manch’ and Citizens Against Hate, advocate M L Sharma, law students have also approached the apex court challenging the Act.

Moitra’s plea was mentioned for urgent listing before a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde and her counsel urged that the petition be heard during the day or on December 16.

“Today? Nothing today. You go to the mentioning officer,” the bench, also comprising justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, told Moitra’s counsel.

While Ramesh has said that the Act is a “brazen attack” on core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution and treats “equals as unequal”, Moitra has said that “patent unconstitutionality” of the law “destroys the plural, multi-religious and egalitarian basis of India’s secular fabric, and replaces it with a constitutionally unsustainable religion centric substance.”

In his petition, Ramesh said that substantial questions of law, including whether religion can be a factor to either acquire or deny citizenship in India, arises for consideration of the court as it is a “patently unconstitutional” amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955.

“The impugned Act creates two classifications, viz, classification on basis of religion and the classification on the basis of geography and both the classifications are completely unreasonable and share no rational nexus to the object of the impugned Act i.e., to provide shelter, safety and citizenship to communities who in their native country are facing persecution on grounds of religion,” the plea said.

Moitra has said in her plea that the Act is a “divisive, exclusionary and discriminatory piece of legislation that is bound to rend the secular fabric irreparably, and allow illegal migrants of particular religions to acquire citizenship immediately upon its passage.” She has also sought top court’s direction to suspend the operation of the Act and all actions under it pending disposal of her plea.

In their plea, NGOs ‘Rihai Manch’ and Citizens Against Hate, have said that the Act is “discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary” and violates the fundamental rights, including that of equality before law, and basic structure of the Constitution. “The amendment is manifestly arbitrary inasmuch it is capricious, irrational, not transparent, biased with favouritsm or nepotism, without adequate determining principle, and contrary to the public interest,” the plea, filed through advocate Fauzia Shakil, said.

In his petition, Ramesh has sought a declaration that the Act is “ultra vires” the Assam Accord of 1985, the Constitution and violates the international law and obligation approved and agreed by India under international covenants.

The plea by Ramesh, which is settled by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Devadatt Kamat, has sought quashing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 as “unconstitutional, null and void and ultra vires” Articles 14 (equality before law) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.

“The impugned Act suffers from manifest arbitrariness, as it arbitrarily groups only 3 countries along with only 6 religions and expressly excludes specific religions and regions from availing the benefits of the Citizenship Amendments,” it said.

Similarly, one of the pleas said the Act “purportedly seeks to provide benefits to victims of persecution. However, the impugned Act goes on to create a division between the persecuted, on the basis of faith and nationality of origin.”

On Thursday, another plea challenging the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was filed by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) which said that it violates fundamental right to equality and intends to grant citizenship to a section of illegal immigrants by making an exclusion on the basis of religion. The IUML has said in its plea that the Bill was against the basic structure of Constitution and intended to explicitly discriminate against Muslims as it extends benefits only to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

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