The Supreme Court Tuesday sought response from the Centre on a fresh plea challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna issued notice on the plea filed by Assam State Jamiat Ulama E Hind and ordered its tagging with similar pending petition of "Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha" (Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill).
"Issue notice. Tag with Writ Petition ... ," the bench said. The apex court had on February 27 issued notice on the plea filed by Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill which had sought to declare the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Order as "discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal".
Prior to this, it had decided to keep the plea pending saying that it would be taken up "only after the Citizenship Act Amendment Bill, consideration of which is now stated to be pending before the Rajya Sabha, reaches its finality".
The bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha and it would now be presented in the Upper House of Parliament.
Passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, the bill provides for according Indian citizenship to the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, after six years of residence in India instead of the 12 years currently, even if they do not possess any document.
It also seeks to provide relief to the persecuted migrants who have come through the western borders to states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, the home minister had said.
The PIL of Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill has opposed the bill on the ground that it had introduced religion as a new principle into the citizenship law and termed it as "communally motivated humanitarianism".
"Never before has religion been specifically identified in the citizenship law as a ground for distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens. It has introduced religion as a new principle into the citizenship law and can be conveniently branded as ''communally motivated humanitarianism''.
"The illegal immigrants who are to be granted the benefit of this legislation are to qualify for citizenship only on the basis of religion, a requirement that goes against one of the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution, secularism," it said.
It further claimed that the "direct and inevitable" effect of the bill would be the dilution of the Assam Accord inked in 1985, which presently made anyone entering Assam from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971 an "illegal immigrant".
"The amendment defeats the purpose of the accord and opens the floodgates to more illegal immigration and consequently, increases claims on diminishing resources. The transformation of migrants, hitherto perceived as illegal encroachers, into legitimate citizens cannot be justified," it said.
The plea further claimed that the bill had the potential to "derail and nullify" the gains made by updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
"Many persons, who could not otherwise establish their claims and were therefore excluded from the draft NRC published recently, can now take shelter under this and subsequently, become legitimate Indian citizens at the cost of the indigenous people of Assam," it said.
The petition further alleged that Assam had repeatedly witnessed ethnic clashes and violence, which were arising out of existential threat perceptions, fear of being reduced to minority in one''s own homeland and giving up territories to foreigners and imposition of foreign or alien culture.
The PIL sought directions to the Centre, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Assam government to declare the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Order as "discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal".
It further sought directions to the Centre to constitute a National Immigration Commission or any other appropriate body to frame a National Immigration Policy and a National Refugee Policy.