The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought the Centre's response on a petition challenging two notifications related to Passport Rules and Foreigners Rules that allow religious minorities, except Muslims, facing persecution in neighbouring countries, to stay in India even if they had entered without valid documents.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjiv Khanna sought the response on a petition by the Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha (Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill), which has challenged amendments to the Passport Rules and Citizens Rules framed under the respective statutes. The notice is returnable in six weeks.
Contending that the government could not have issued the two notifications in 2015 without amending the law, the petitioner has asked the top court to declare the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules 2015 notified on September 7, 2015 "discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal".
Similarly, the Forum and others including Hiren Gohain, Manjit Mahanta and Harekrishna Deka, have also sought the Foreigners Amendment Order, 2015, notified on September 7, 2015, be declared illegal.
Besides seeking the strike down of the 2015 notifications and the 2016 order of the Union Home Ministry in this regard, the petitioners want a direction to the Centre to take effective steps for the "conservation and preservation of the distinct culture, heritage and traditions of the indigenous people of Assam".
The Bill to amend the Passport Act and the Citizenship Act to buttress the amendment to the Rules is likely to lapse with the imminent dissolution of the present Lok Sabha in view of the forthcoming general elections.
Pointing to the "uncontrolled influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into Assam causing huge demographic changes reducing the once majority indigenous people to a minority in its own land," the Forum has sought protection of their fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination), Article 19 (Freedom of speech and expression), Article 21 (Right to life) and Article 25 (Right to freedom of religion).
The petitioners have contended that religious persecution can be a reasonable principle for differentiation, but "it cannot be articulated in a manner that dilutes the republican and secular foundation of citizenship in India and goes against constitutional morality".
Contending that under the theory of basic structure of the Constitution certain characteristics could not be taken away by any legislation, the petitioners have asserted that any legislation that "fails the test of basic structure of the Constitution is unconstitutional and secularism is part of the basic structure of the Constitution."
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