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On 22nd January 2020, the Supreme Court, while dealing with the record 1444 petitions related to the Citizenship Amendment Act, refused to grant a stay on the Act, thereby declining to take note of the anti-CAA protests that are going on in the entire country.
The Centre has been given four weeks’ time period to file a comprehensive response. The court also said that the petitions will be heard by a five-judge Constitutional bench. The bench, however, agreed that the petitions from Assam and Tripura should be heard separately as the grounds of their agitation are different from the rest of the country.
Mr. Kapil Sibal, while arguing against CAA-NPR, also requested the court to postpone the process of conducting NPR by two months as it is bound to begin in April 2020. However, the court was of the opinion that “an interim order would be as good as a stay order”, therefore refusing to grant such order. The CJI said that the matter is “uppermost in everybody’s minds” and that “the CAA (law) will always remain subject to the outcome of the petitions”.
The controversy around CAA-NPR
The Citizenship Amendment Act benefits the people of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi religion who have sought refuge in India on or before 31 December 2014 after facing religious persecution from the countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Act, however, leaves out Muslim refugees.
The Act has been protested against and challenged on the ground of violation of the Fundamental Right to Equality guaranteed to every person in the territory of India and also on the grounds that it violates the principle of Secularism in India by discriminating against the Muslim refugees.
The NPR (National Population Register) is a register of the residents of India where the enumerator will collect the demographic and biometric data of the individuals living in India following which, a list of ‘doubtful citizens’ will be prepared. This would pave the way for the preparation of NRC (National Register of Citizens) which would, in turn, assess whether the ‘doubtful citizens’ are illegal migrants or not.
Whether there is a direct link between CAA and NPR depends on what the data for NPR will be used for. However, it has been inferred that if the people of the aforementioned religions, other than those from Islam, fail to prove their citizenship after the process of NPR-NRC, then they would easily be given Citizenship under the CAA, which would amount to discrimination against the Muslims.
Arguments in favor of CAA-NPR
The BJP leaders, including the Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, time again replied to the criticism received by the CAA by stating that the CAA is simply a law of giving citizenship. It does not deprive any citizen of their citizenship. Moreover, the religions as mentioned in the Act have been given citizenship because these are the minority religions in the countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh and have been persecuted since long ago.
Similarly, Sadhguru in an interview also said that at the time of partition of India and Pakistan there were approximately 23% of Hindus residing in West Pakistan whereas 30% of Hindus residing in East Pakistan or Bangladesh. This number has come down to merely 3-4% over the years due to their religious persecution. In his words, “it was about time that India showed some compassion” towards them.
As regards, the NPR, Prime Minister Modi has time and again assured the people of India that NPR-NRC has never been discussed by the party leaders and is not going to be implemented any time soon. However, Amit Shah has on many occasions confirmed in his speeches that the NRC for the whole country is on its way.
In conclusion, the protests and the nationwide agitation are still premature as there is no certainty whether the NPR or the NRC would be linked with the CAA or not. The guidelines or dates to conduct the NRC- NPR have not yet been finalized. Hence, it is wrong to assume that these would be a threat to the country.
Arguments against CAA-NPR
The CAA was challenged before the Supreme Court on three grounds. Firstly, it was contended that CAA violates the Right to Equality as the principle of reasonable classification of three countries mentioned in the Act is not sufficed. Secondly, the date i.e. 31 December 2014 is arbitrary and has no legitimate reason. And thirdly, the discrimination against Muslims has violated the principle of a secularist state of India embodied in the Constitution.
Apart from this, the Act itself nowhere mentions the word ‘persecution’ as has been used by BJP leaders for justifying the move.
The process of NPR-NRC is perhaps an unplanned move as was demonetization. The fact that both Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have given contrasting statements regarding the conduct of NPR-NRC is the testament to the same. Moreover, Amit Shah has confirmed that documents like Aadhar Card, Passport, Voter Card and Pan Card etc. would be not applicable for proving the citizenship of the doubtful citizens. Therefore, the citizens, especially poor people, would have a hard time proving citizenship. The people who voted for the government are now being questioned about their citizenship, which is highly illogical. According to a report by OECD, India has already suffered a loss of 2.8 lakh crore rupees last year due to economic slowdown. Furthermore, the government has allocated 4000 crore rupees (approx.) for the conduct of NPR, adding to India’s sinking economy.
Significance of this development by the Supreme Court
“The CAA will always remain subject to the outcome of the petitions”, said CJI Bobde while hearing the case. The court refused to grant a stay on both CAA and NPR as was requested by the petitioner’s counsel.
The Court said that granting an interim order is not the solution to the issue. Even if this case is put on stay, the petitions are being continuously filed and each of those cannot be subject to an interim order. Furthermore, refusing to pass any order without the Centre’s response, the Court has directed the Centre to file a reply within four weeks.
Therefore, till any decision is reached upon by the Supreme Court, it is safe to assume that the NPR would not be postponed or halted and the process will likely begin at the scheduled time, beginning in April 2020.
Given the circumstances, if CAA and the NPR get implemented, then it could lead to an upsurge in the protests causing unrest throughout the country.
The poor people would be adversely affected as was the scenario at the time of demonetization. The population of India would expand giving way to furtherance of the economic slowdown of the country.
This might also prove as a way to deport the Muslim population of the country and lead one step towards the BJP’s dream of converting India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
However, from a positive outlook, it would perhaps rule out the illegal immigrants from India and would provide citizenship to the minority religions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
All in all, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Population Register have been implemented and are valid until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. The Anti- CAA protests have caused huge unrest in the country and are nowhere near the end. In this scenario, all eyes are on the Supreme Court to do justice to the people of India.
On one hand, the CAA has been alleged as discriminatory towards the Muslims whereas, on the other hand, the NPR is a whole new challenge for the people. The Supreme Court is yet to decide the constitutionality of both the acts but for now, these pose a great threat to the peace and safety of the people of the country.
Author: Prachi Gupta from University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.