NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Wednesday sought a response from the Centre on a plea challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The apex court had earlier 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".
A bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which recently considered the plea for an urgent hearing on the PIL, Wednesday ordered, "Issue notice returnable in six weeks."
The bench, also comprising Justices LN Rao and Sanjiv Khanna, was hearing the petition filed by the "Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha" (Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill) which has sought to declare the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Order as "discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal".
The bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha and it would now be presented in the Upper House of Parliament.
The bill, passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, 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 of the country to states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh etc, the home minister had said.
The PIL 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 a 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.