In December 2019, the Parliament revised the Citizenship Act, 1955 (1955 Act), generally referred to as the CAA, adding a new proviso to Section 2(1)(b), which defines “illegal migrants. Hence, individuals who came to India on or before December 31, 2014, and who were members of the Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan and who were granted exemptions by the Central government under the Foreigners Act, 1946, or the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, were not to be considered “illegal migrants” but rather qualified to apply for citizenship under the 1955 Act. The law relaxed the standards for a few categories of migrants from three neighbouring countries where the predominant population is Muslim.


The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) contested the modification in the Supreme Court in 2020. Since then, the IUML’s challenge has been attached to more than 200 petitions that have been filed. These comprise petitions from political parties like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Muslim Students’ Federation (Assam), Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, National People’s Party (Assam), and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), as well as politicians Asaduddin Owaisi, Jairam Ramesh, Ramesh Chennithala, and Mahua Moitra.


The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 was challenged in court by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) as soon as possible. Soon afterwards, the IUML request was included in close to two hundred petitions. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law and equality before the law for all “persons,” not just citizens, which is the main point of contention against the statute in these petitions. Furthermore, it was argued that it is against secularism, an essential element of the Constitution, to require citizenship to be based on one’s religion. Petitioners argue that any distinction between individuals must have a “reasonable nexus” to the legislation’s purpose and be based on an “intelligible differentia,” which they claim is not met by the selective protection for specific religious minorities from neighbouring nations. His kind of argument has been made before the Supreme Court.


In its affidavit before the Supreme Court, the Centre referred to the CAA as a “benign piece of legislation”. It stated that its goal is to grant amnesty to people from designated nations with a specific deadline. It made clear that the bill impacts no Indian citizen’s legal, democratic, or secular rights in any way. “The CAA does not aim to identify or offer solutions for any type of alleged persecution that could be occurring globally, or that could have occurred in the past anywhere in the world,” the administration rationalized. As per the affidavit, the “narrowly tailored legislation” was enacted to address a particular issue, which is the religious persecution of minorities. This was done given the theocratic constitutional position of the countries in question, their systematic functioning, and the de facto situation that may have resulted in minorities feeling fearful. 

Status before the Supreme Court

A bench composed of Justices B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant, and former Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde declined on December 18, 2019, to stop the law’s implementation. Instead, the bench suggested that the government clarify the Act’s true intent to dispel any misconceptions about its objectives to the public. The Court denied a similar plea for a stay on January 22, 2020, focusing on its need to hear from the government first. Consequently, the Centre was given four weeks to respond to the petitions.

Stay on CAA rules:

The Supreme Court has been approached by various parties, including the IUML, DYFI, AASU, and opposition figures like Mr. Debabrata Saika and Mr. Abdul Khaleque, seeking to halt the regulations issued on March 11. They argue that these regulations undermine the independent assessment of citizenship applications by local authorities and deprive state governments of their role in granting citizenship. The petitioners contend that the Central government lacks the authority to assess eligibility and that the State government’s input is essential. They emphasize that there was no urgent need for immediate action and suggest that implementation should have been postponed until the Supreme Court issued a definitive ruling.


Section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act, significantly related to the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, faced challenges. On December 23, 2023, the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, led by D Y Chandrachud, prorogued to rule on its constitutional validity. Section 6A of the Act specifies the criteria defining foreigners in Assam between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971. Section 6A lays out the rules for who gets considered a “foreigner” in Assam, particularly those between January 1, 1966, and March 25, 1971. The integrity of the Accord is on the line here, especially since the Citizenship Amendment Act might seem like it’s breaking the Accord if March 24, 1971, is the proper cut-off date.


M Shanthish Kumar, 5th year B.A, LL. B(Hons.), Veltech School of Law, Chennai


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