At the first hearing on petitions challenging the citizenship law, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to stay the contentious law but told the government to respond to petitions that have attacked the amended Citizenship Act on grounds that it violates the Constitution.
The court will hear the case next on January 22. At the hearing, the petitioners represented by senior lawyer Kapil Sibal argued that the law should not be implemented as the rules have not been notified. But the Attorney General KK Venugopal opposed the stay.
Nearly 60 petitions have piled up at the Supreme Court over the last week after Parliament passed made changes to the law to provide for a special dispensation to grant citizenship to religious minorities from three Islamic countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The law allows undocumented migrants from six communities - Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, and Jains - to stay in India and get citizenship if they claim religious persecution. This special provision is valid for people who entered the country before December 31, 2014.
The controversial law - the first of its kind in India - have triggered street protests, first in the northeast that later spread to other parts of the country.
In national capital Delhi, one such protest around Jamia Millia Islamia university turned violent on Sunday and led to police action. The university has accused the police of going overboard and targeting students who weren’t indulging in violence. The police crackdown on students at Jamia set off similar protests in many other universities and institutions.
Many of the petitions that reached the Supreme Court have been filed by parliamentarians. Kerala’s Indian Union Muslim League and its four lawmakers were the first ones to knock on the Supreme Court’s door. There have been many others including Congress’ Jairam Ramesh and the Rashtriya Janata Party’s Manoj Jha.
The petitions have broadly challenged the law on the ground that the law discriminates against people on grounds of religion and privileges religious persecution of only specific religions.