The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would hear after two weeks a plea challenging the Centre’s notification inviting non-Muslims belonging to Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for Indian citizenship. The matter came up for hearing before a vacation bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioner, said the Centre had filed a counter affidavit on the issue on Monday.

“The Union of India has filed a counter affidavit yesterday. We need two weeks to file reply,” Sibal told the bench.

The apex court said it would hear the matter after two weeks.

In its affidavit filed in the top court, the Centre has said that its notification does not relate to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and is a “mere delegation of power vested with the Central Government to local authorities.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said that similar delegation of power has been permitted by the Central government in 2004, 2005, 206, 2016 and 2018 also and no relaxation whatsoever has been made in respect of the eligibility criteria between different foreign nationals which are laid down in the Citizenship Act, 1955 and rules made thereunder.

“It is submitted that the notification dated May 28, 2021 does not relate to the CAA which has been inserted into the Act as section 6B,” the MHA said in the affidavit and added that it seeks to merely delegate the power of the Central government to the local authorities in particular cases.

“The said notification does not provide for any relaxations to foreigners and applies only to foreigners who have entered the country legally as the Central Government used its authority under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act and delegated its powers to grant citizenship by Registration or Naturalisation to District Collectors,” the MHA said.

The affidavit, filed in response to a plea by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), said the May 28 notification is merely a process of decentralisation of decision making aimed at speedy disposal of the citizenship applications of such foreigners as the decision will now be taken at the district or state level itself after examining each case.

The IUML had recently moved the top court challenging the Centre’s notification inviting non-Muslims belonging to Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and residing in 13 districts in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for Indian citizenship.

The application claimed that the Centre is trying to circumvent the assurance given to the apex court in this regard in the pending petition filed by the IUML challenging the constitutional validity of the provisions of the CAA.

The CAA grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian – who migrated to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh till December 31, 2014, following persecution over their faith.

IUML, in its plea, said that the Centre had during the course of hearing of its plea challenging the constitutional validity of CAA, submitted before the apex court and provided assurance that staying of the Amendment Act was not necessary since the rules of the Amendment Act had not been framed.

“However, the respondent Union, in a roundabout way, and in an attempt to circumvent the assurance given to this court, have sought to implement their malafide designs envisaged under the Amendment Act through the recently issued order dated May 28,” the plea submitted.

The apex court had in February 2020 sought response of the Centre on a batch of fresh pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The top court, on December 18, 2019 had decided to examine the constitutional validity of the CAA while refusing to stay its operation.

While hearing a batch of petitions, the top court had on January 22, 2020 made it clear that the operation of CAA will not be stayed and gave the government four weeks to respond to the pleas challenging the CAA.

When the CAA was enacted in 2019, there were widespread protests in different parts of the country and even riots took place in Delhi in early 2020 in the wake of these protests.



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