Context: A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) U U Lalit will hear the challenge to the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
What is CAA?
- The CAA, 2019 amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31 2014 eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
- According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, a person must have resided in India (or been in the service of the Central Government) for at least 11 years in order to be eligible for citizenship.
- The amended Act reduces that period to five years for all migrants from these three countries belonging to these six religious communities.
- The Act has been introduced ostensibly to aid refugees fleeing religious persecution in the three nations.
- The conspicuous exclusion of Muslims from the purview of the Act has evoked widespread condemnation.
The Act is unconstitutional:
- The law was challenged before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.
- The challenge rests primarily on the grounds that the law violates Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees that no person shall be denied the right to equality before law or the equal protection of law in the territory of India.
It is Anti-Muslim:
- Those challenging the law argue that if protecting persecuted minorities is ostensibly the objective of the law, then the exclusion of some countries and using religion as a yardstick may fall foul of the test.
Against the basic structure of the constitution:
- Granting citizenship on the grounds of religion is seen to be against the secular nature of the Constitution which has been recognised as part of the basic structure that cannot be altered by Parliament.
Debate of reasonable classification:
- In the CAA challenge, the petitioners have asked the Court to look into whether the special treatment given to “persecuted minorities” from three Muslim majority neighbouring countries only is a reasonable classification under Article 14 for granting citizenship, and whether the state is discriminating against Muslims by excluding them.
Why is the northeast against CAA?
- The north-eastern states have for long faced large scale migration from neighbouring countries.
- There were protests from indigenous residents over the strain this migration placed on the social, economic, and political fabric of the region.
- The protest against the provisions of the CAA in these states is against legitimisation of all immigrants from any country irrespective of their faith rather than excluding only Muslims.
Exceptions to the CAA:
- The CAA will not apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under The Inner Line notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
- Apart from the above exceptions, the law shall be applicable across all states.
- The Chief Ministers of Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh have stated that they will not implement the act in their respective states.
- However, states may not have the power to refuse implementation of the law, as it is enacted under the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
The status of the case:
- The Supreme Court has developed a two-pronged test to examine a law on the grounds of Article 14.
- Any differentiation between groups of persons must be founded on intelligible differentia.
- For a law to satisfy the conditions under Article 14, it has to first create a “reasonable class” of subjects that it seeks to govern under the law.
- Differentia must have a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.
- Even if the classification is reasonable, any person who falls in that category has to be treated alike.
- The challenge has had only one substantive hearing since 2020.
Source: Indian Express