New Delhi: Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra moved the Supreme Court on Friday challenging the amended Citizenship Act, according to which members of non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan cab be given Indian citizenship.
Moitra’s counsel mentioned the matter for urgent listing before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, who asked him to approach the mentioning officer. The counsel told the bench that the plea be listed either during the day or on December 16.
President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, on Thursday night, turning it into an Act.
According to it, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
Jairam Ramesh files petition
Congress leader and former minister Jairam Ramesh also moved the apex court challenging the Act, calling it a “brazen attack on the core fundamental rights envisaged under the Constitution”.
According to LiveLaw, the petition says that the “impugned enactment exfacie violates the fundamental guarantees under Article 14 as also Article 21 of the Constitution”. He challenged the Act on the grounds that classification on the basis of religion and geography is unsustainable.
On Thursday, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) challenged the Bill, before it was signed by the president, saying it violates the fundamental right to equality of the Constitution and intends to grant citizenship to a section of ‘illegal immigrants’ by making an exclusion on the basis of religion.
The petition alleged that the legislation 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.
“The petitioners do not have any grievances in granting citizenship to migrants but the petitioner’s grievances is directed against discrimination and unreasonable classification based on religion.
“It is submitted that illegal migrants are class by itself and therefore any law which is applicable to them should be irrespective of any religion, cast or nationality basis,” the plea had said.
It also alleged that the government has given no explanation on the Act excluding minorities like Ahmadiyyas, Shias and the Hazaras who have a long history of persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The Act does not prescribe any standard principle or norm behind choosing aforesaid three neighbouring countries, whereby it does not extend the benefit to religious minorities belonging to other neighbouring counties such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.
“The classification of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh is not founded on rationale principle to justify a separate special treatment for the religious minorities facing persecution on the basis of religion,” the petition had said.
It said that the Act will ensure that illegal Muslim migrants excluded after the NRC exercise be prosecuted and, those belonging to the community of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians shall be given the benefit of naturalisation as an Indian citizen.
“Therefore all those Muslims who have been excluded in such pan-India NRC exercise shall have to prove their citizenship before the Foreigners Tribunal, all because they are Muslims and not Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
“This blatant discrimination put into legislation by the amended Act is not only unconstitutional but also inhumane and opposed to the very idea of our nation,” the plea had said.
Criticism in parliament
The Bill, which was cleared in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, saw 125 MPs voting in its favour and 99 against it. It was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
Several opposition leaders have brought up the Article 14 violation in parliament, even arguing that the Bill should not have been tabled in the first place. However, both Houses passed it.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi asked home minister Amit Shah why he “hated Muslims” so much. He also tore a copy of the Bill to show how strongly he disagreed with it.
“Don’t include Muslims. But why do you hate Muslims so much? What is our crime?” Owaisi said. “This law is aimed at a second partition. It’s worse than Hitler’s law.”
He also asked why Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and China-occupied Kashmir were not included. “Have we given up Aksai Chin,” he asked, adding that there are so many Muslims among Tibetans and said they should be brought under the Bill’s ambit.
Congress leaders too had suggested that they would be questioning the Bill’s validity in the Supreme Court, but have not done so yet.
Questioning the Bill, P. Chidambaram had said it was an “arbitrary executive fiat”. He said since it was bound to land in court due to its contentious clauses and that its future would ultimately lay in the hands of “unelected judges and unelected lawyers” and thus it was “a slap on the parliament.” Chidambaram also exuded confidence that the law would be “struck down” by the judiciary.
Chidambaram also questioned if the Centre went by the advice of the law ministry or the solicitor general given to the home ministry in the matter. “I dare the government to lay the opinion of the law department,” he said, accusing the government of “wrecking the constitution from within”.
Congress’s Anand Sharma had strongly criticised the Bill and called it unconstitutional in parliament. “This Bill is an assault on the very foundation of the Indian constitution, it is an assault on the Republic of India. It hurts the soul of India. It is against our constitution and democracy. It fails the morality test,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)