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No hold on enumeration process for creating an NPR: SC refuses to stay CAA; pauses hearings in high courts

Prayers for interim relief from petitioners of Assam and Tripura would be heard by a Constitution Bench after four weeks, by which time the Centre has been asked to place its views on the issue before the bench.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jan 23, 2020, 07.53 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has refused to stay the Citizenship Amendment Act and enumeration process for creating a National Population Register. However, it asked high courts not to take a decision on petitions challenging the Act till it decided on whether it should hear cases pending in different HCs, as demanded by the Union government.

However, the bench comprising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices SA Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna said that prayers for interim relief from petitioners of Assam and Tripura would be heard by a Constitution Bench after four weeks, by which time the Centre has been asked to place its views on the issue before the bench. The petitioners have contended that CAA would facilitate settling of more refugees in the two states already burdened by earlier immigrants from Bangladesh. The bench also issued notices to the Centre on fresh petitions challenging CAA. Over 140 such petitions challenging different aspects of the law are now before the court. Some of the petition have sought a stay on NPR and NRC.

Earlier in the day, senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, KV Vishwanathan and Rajeev Dhavan urged the bench to stay the Act till the court takes a call on its constitutional validity. “Nothing (framing of rules for CAA) has been formalised but the NPR processes have begun,” Sibal said, seeking a stay. Citizenship is an irrevocable process once consummated, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued. “You can’t take it back once given,” he said. Vishwanathan argued for a stay on the ground that the Act facilitated “gerrymandering of electoral rolls.” It leaves much power in the hands of local officers to declare a person’s citizenship as doubtful or declare him a foreigner and be taken out of the electoral rolls. This is causing disquiet not only among minorities but also “silent majority”, he contended. Singhvi drew the court’s attention to the Uttar Pradesh move to identify over 40,000 people as beneficiaries of the Act to the exclusion of others. Vishwanathan argued that the UP move to identify people in 19 districts with a tick and a cross had created chaos and insecurity. “What has not been done in 70 years can easily start after two months,” he argued seeking suspension of the process.

The AG objected to any stay to suspend operation of the law, insisting that there was nothing irreversible in the process. The law has a provision for withdrawal of citizenship too, KK Venugopal said. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the Assam Advocate Association, argued that the Act would allow approximately 2 million from Bangladesh — 50% Hindu and 50% Muslim — to settle in Assam. These people were left out of the final NRC in Assam. “Let the government not take any precipitate steps.”

The CJI said a five-judge Constitution Bench may hear all the Assam and Tripura related petitions for interim relief separately. “The law treats these states differently.” However, he refused to pass any stay without first hearing the government. The AG insisted that the Assam NRC would not become operative till the Registrar General of India had published it. He suggested that this would take a long time but the CJI insisted that the court would hear it after the government formally places its legal views before the court.

The government is yet to formally file a reply to any of the petitions challenging CAA, NRC or NPR, though it received notices on the issue at the first hearing two weeks ago.

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