The Indian Union of Muslim League vs Union of India

Facts

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) swiftly challenged the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill’s validity in a petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution following its passage in Parliament earlier in December 2019. Official notice was sent to the CAA on January 10, 2020. Soon after, a number of additional plaintiffs followed, and as of right now, the IUML petition is tagged with almost 200 petitions.

The Citizenship Act, 1955 is amended by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (henceforth referred to as the “CAA”) to provide a pathway to Indian citizenship for a particular type of undocumented migrants. If an illegal immigrant is from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan and (a) they are a member of the Christian, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, or Buddhist society, they may be eligible for citizenship under the CAA. 

Only immigrants who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, are included. The clause does not apply to several locations in the Northeast.

Most of the petitioner’s prayers to the court included striking down four notification issued by Union Government in 2015 to 2016. (G.S.R. 685(E), 686(E), 702(E), 703(E)) these notifications ordered by the honorable court exempt illegal migrants from six religions from above and deportation and detention from three countries of origin under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and Foreigners Act, 1946.

Further, On Tuesday, The Supreme Court refused to stay implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA. On March 19, 2024 the Supreme Court sent a notice to the Center requesting a response by April 8, three weeks from now, to the arguments made in favor of a stay on the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2024. A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, posted the matter for the next hearing on April 9.

The Centre, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, has asked for more time to file its response. The central government said that it needed four weeks to file a reply to the pleas.

Issues raised

  • The main objection raised in these petitions is that Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality before the law and equal protection under the law for all “persons” (not just citizens), is being violated.
  • The second was that making religion a qualifier for citizenship violates secularism, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.
  • The CAA violates the right to live with dignity guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution
  • Whether G.S.R. 685(E), 686(E), 702(E) and 703(E) are unconstitutional (on the same grounds as the CAA is)?
  • Groups like the Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, the Rohingyas in Myanmar and minority Muslim sects like the Hazaras in Afghanistan also face persecution but have been denied similar protection under this law.

Contention

By Petitioner

The petitioners contend that a distinction made on the basis of national origin or religion has no reasonable connection to this goal. For instance, the CAA unjustly excludes illegal immigrants who, after experiencing religious persecution in Sri Lanka, escaped to India. The petitioners draw the conclusion that there is no logical connection between the desired outcome and the differentia.

In the petitions, it is prayed that the Supreme Court would invalidate the CAA for constitutional violations. Most of the petitions directly target Section 2(1)(b) of the CAA, which grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who are residents of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan.

In addition, a lot of the petitions prayed the court to invalidate four notices that the Union government sent out in 2015 and 2016 for the same reasons. Under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946, illegal migrants from the aforementioned six faiths and their three places of origin are immune from deportation and imprisonment by virtue of the notifications (G.S.R. 685(E), 686(E), 702(E), and 703(E)).

By Respondent

The respondent for the petitions filed against the Government, The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta sought four weeks to file the Government’s response to the remaining 200 plus petitions against CAA.

The Solicitor General also replied to the petitioners saying “Whether citizenship is granted or not, petitioners will not be impacted.

The respondent also requested four weeks to respond to around twenty cases that petitioners had brought independently to stop the CAA Rules. Petitioners were notified on March 11 of the CAA’s implementation, ending years of quiet. 

He further said similar attempts to “mislead” people had been made outside the court. “The NRC is not an issue before the court, only the grant of citizenship under CAA is the issue,” he clarified.

The respondent also argued the constitutional validity of the Citizen Amendment Act stating that no fundamental rights are infringed by the act and this is necessary for stopping unethical practices, crimes and also improving the economy. A major concern was about the Rohingya muslims and the territoriality as well as curbing terrorism.

Rationale

A group of petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and the CAA Rules of 2024 were considered by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court on March 19. The bench was chaired by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. Following notification on March 11, 2024, many interim petitions were submitted requesting a stay on the Rules. The broader constitutional challenges to the CAA are considered concurrently with the stay applications.

The Bench carefully considered the parties’ concerns, sent notice in every case where it hadn’t before, and determined to schedule the matter for April 9, 2024.

A uniform affidavit must be filed by April 2, 2024, according to the Bench’s directive to all petitioners seeking a stay on the Rules. By April 8th, 2024, the Union needs to answer. One set of nodal counsels was assigned by the Bench for the states of Assam and Tripura, while another set was designated for the other petitions. On April 9, 2024, the matter is slated for a new hearing.

Defects in law

When combined with the anticipated National Register of Citizens (NRC) for all of India, the CAA may deny full citizenship to a large number of Muslims living in India. Muslims will not be able to reclaim citizenship through the CAA, in contrast to excluded non-Muslims who will. Thus, Muslims living in India may be disproportionately excluded by the NRC and the CAA together.

Muslim groups say the citizenship law will protect non-Muslims who are excluded from the register, while Muslims could face deportation or internment. On Monday, human rights watchdog Amnesty India said the law “legitimizes discrimination based on religion.”

Article 14 of the Constitution, which states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India,” is the basis for the challenge to the CAA. The petitioners contend that it is against the basic right to equality to use religion as a criterion or filter.

According to Assam Accord, in the state of Assam, the Accord establishes who is considered a foreigner. The Accord’s Clause 5 specifies that January 1, 1966, will be the baseline cut-off date for the identification and removal of “foreigners,” but it also allows for the regularization of anyone who entered the state after that date and up until March 24, 1971. The final NRC, which was released in 2019, was likewise based on this.

Section 6A of the Act allows foreign migrants who came to Assam after January 1, 1966 but before March 25, 1971, to seek Indian citizenship. If the effective cut off date of March 24, 1971 is upheld by the SC as the cut-off date for entry into the state, the CAA could fall foul of the Assam Accord, since it creates a different timeline.

Inference

In conclusion, the ongoing CAA case before the Supreme Court stands as a pivotal moment in India’s legal and social landscape. The deliberations within the highest judicial institution of the country reflect the intricate balance between constitutional principles, societal values, and the rights of individuals. As the Court navigates through the complexities of the case, it grapples with issues that resonate deeply with the nation’s ethos of secularism, pluralism, and equality before the law.

As the ongoing CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) case continues to unfold within the chambers of the Supreme Court, it has become increasingly evident that this issue transcends legal technicalities and delves into the very heart of India’s democratic ethos and constitutional framework. The Court’s deliberations on the constitutional validity of the CAA stand as a crucial moment in the nation’s history, where principles of equality, secularism, and justice are under scrutiny.

The outcome of the CAA case holds significant implications not only for those directly affected by the Act but also for the broader fabric of Indian democracy. It has sparked debates, protests, and introspection across the country, highlighting the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights and upholding the principles of justice and fairness.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s judgment on the constitutional validity of the CAA will shape the contours of citizenship and identity in India for generations to come. It is a testament to the strength of India’s democratic institutions and the enduring commitment to upholding the principles enshrined in its Constitution. As the case continues to unfold, it underscores the importance of a robust and independent judiciary in safeguarding the rights and liberties of all citizens.

Abhinav Awasthi

Sinhgad Law College, Pune.