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Pleas in court

60 petitions have been filed so far, and counting

The President’s ratification of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, on December 12 triggered a slew of petitions in the Supreme Court less than 12 hours later. By midday, at least a dozen petitions had been filed challenging the constitutional validity of it.

The matter — almost 60 petitions in all — was heard by a bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. This figure may change since the number of petitions being filed for, or against, the Act rises on a daily basis. The bench issued a notice on all pleas, directing the Centre to file their replies by the second week of January. The case will be heard on January 22.

Newslaundry profiles some of those who have sought to challenge the Bill in court.

Mahua Moitra

This first-time MP from West Bengal was the first person to file a petition in the apex court challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA.  Condemning the act, Moitra told ANI that the law “seeks to divide the country”.

“The Act is completely unconstitutional and seeks to divide the country,” she said. “Earlier, the Assam Accord of 1985, which stated that immigrants from 1971 would not be citizens of India, was not based on religions. Around 19 lakh people were identified, out of which 12 lakh were Hindus.”

In her plea, she stated: “By introducing a religion test in India’s citizenship law, the Amendment strikes a body blow to the basic structure of India’s constitution, specifically its non-denominational character; and is manifestly arbitrary, constitutionally immoral, both in letter and in spirit.”

Derek O’Brien

O’Brien is an active participant in the parliament and has debated on a range of issues, including the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, demonetisation, net neutrality, and the NRC.

He said: “In 1935 you needed an identity to prove your Aryan lineage…you were given something called an ‘ancestor pass’. In 2018 you need a piece of paper to prove you are an Indian citizen. In 1940 there was a plan to deport Jews…called Madagascar Plan…now we have the ‘Maha’ Plan, also called NRC.”

Like Moitra, O’Brien has also challenged the constitutional validity of the CAA in the apex court.

All Assam Students’ Union

The AASU was also one of the key petitioners in the top court for the effective implementation of the NRC which was conducted in the state. The organisation has filed a petition in the top court challenging the CAA. In its plea, it states that the amended law violates the Assam Accord. Speaking to PTI, chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said: “Our stand is clear. We will not accept, never accept the new law. The MPs have voted in favour of the bill but people of Assam have rejected it through a mass movement.”

In its petition, AASU, through its general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi, said the petition was being filed in “their personal as well as representative capacity for a large number of people living in Assam who have suffered and are still suffering the consequences of illegal immigration of Bangladeshi citizens in Assam…”

Asaduddin Owaisi

Owaisi leads the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and represents the constituency of Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha. During the Winter Session, Owaisi tore up a copy of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in protest.

Owaisi’s petition in the Supreme Court said the impugned provisions of the amended Bill offend the principle of “constitutional morality”. Owaisi has challenged several notifications issued by the Home Ministry amending the Passport Rules, the Foreigners Order, and protection extended to Afghan nationals.

His petition said: “In these times of absolute majorities in Parliament, this Court, as the sentinel of our Constitution, has a burden higher than ever before to satisfy its conscience that the impugned actions of the government and of Parliament are in keeping with this ‘guiding spirit’ and ‘soul’ of our Constitution embodied by the principle of constitutional morality.”

Assom Gana Parishad

The AGP, a BJP ally at the Centre, was one of the key supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament. Birendra Prasad Baishya, an AGP member in the upper house, even voted in favour of the legislation.

Party chief Atul Bora said if the Centre wanted to bring this law, nobody could do anything about it. To this, Mahanta, who staunchly opposes the Act, claimed the party did not formally decide on this issue and Bora had voiced his personal opinions.

Party leader Kumar Deepak Das told PTI: “We will take the legal route to seek revocation of the amended Act as the indigenous people of Assam are apprehensive that their identity, language might come under threat.”

Kamal Haasan

In Tamil Nadu, the Makkal Needhi Maiam, a political party started by Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan, has joined the fray to oppose the citizenship law.

In his plea, Haasan submitted, “…the classification based on the religious identity of the individual offends the fundamental principle of ‘secularism’, which is enshrined as basic structure of the Constitution of India.”

The petition said: “The classification of the illegal migrants who are entitled to naturalization as per the Act is also selective and arbitrary as it is restricted only to migrants into India on account of religious persecution from three countries, viz; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan for which there is no basis and also excludes refugees from other countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc.”

Other opposition

Deb Mukherjee, the former Indian ambassador to Nepal and the former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, challenged the citizenship law in the Supreme Court, along with two retired IAS officers. They contend that the law “violates every known principle of equality and equal treatment” and “damages and destroys the Constitution’s basic feature of secularism”.

The petition said: “The impugned act states that refugees and asylum seekers belonging to the right religion (Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Parsi and Buddhist)… will be set on the fast track to citizenship.

Civil rights activists Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Irfaan Habib and Prabhat Patnaik also filed a joint petition in the Supreme Court. Others are NGOs Rihai Manch and United Against Hate, political party DMK, the Democratic Youth Federation.

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