The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that the home ministry’s notification allowing 13 districts to accept, verify and approve citizenship applications from members of minority communities hailing from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh was not related to the Citizenship Amendment Act, reported Live Law.
In a gazette notification issued on May 28, the Union home ministry had said that “minority community” would include Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians, belonging to the three neighbouring countries, who are residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. Significantly, the notification was issued under existing provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955, as rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act have not been framed yet.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December 2019, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, provided they have lived in India for six years, and entered the country by December 31, 2014. Across the country, protests had broken out against the law, which is seen as an assault on secular values inscribed in the Constitution.
On June 1, the Indian Union Muslim League had moved the Supreme Court against the notification. In its petition, the Indian Union Muslim League, or IUML, noted that the home ministry had told the Supreme Court not to stay the Citizenship Amendment Act as it had yet not framed the rules. The IUML contended that the May 28 notification was an attempt to go around this submission to the Supreme Court.
The petition further said that if the applicants are granted citizenship and the Supreme Court strikes down CAA, it would be a “herculean task” and “near impossible” to take back the citizenships given.
In its affidavit on Monday, the Centre said that the notification only seeks to delegate powers of the Union government to the local authorities in particular cases.
“The said notification does not provide for any relaxations to the foreigners and applies only to foreigners who have entered the country legally as the Central Government used its authority under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act and delegated its powers to grant citizenship by Registration or Naturalisation to District Collectors. It is submitted that it merely an administrative delegation of power without any specific classification or relaxation.”
— Centre’s affidavit
However, the IUML, represented by advocate Haris Beeran, argued: “If it has no relation to CAA, where does the May 28 notification draw authority from to specify the same communities for the same three countries for facilitating the citizenship process”.
The government said the notification did not give any relaxations to the foreigners and is only applicable to those that have entered the country legally, reported The Hindu. “Any foreigner of any faith can apply for citizenship of India at any time,” the affidavit said. “The Central Government shall decide that application as per law and rules.”
It further contended that Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, allows the Centre to delegate powers to local authorities to fast-track approvals on citizenship applications. The government submitted that the same method has been used in the past.
The government also said that the decision to grant approval will be taken at the district or state level after examining the application.
Earlier, the IUML had argued that the sections of the Citizenship Act cited by the home ministry in the notification do not permit the classification of applicants on the basis of religion. The petitioner also argued that the home ministry order does not withstand the test of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution as it treats applicants unequally on the basis of religion.
The IUML was the first party to move the Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act even before it got assent from the president.
Under the home minister’s order, district collectors at Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat; Durg and Balodabazar in Chhatisgarh; Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan; Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab, have been given powers to carry out the process of verification of the applications for citizenship. Similar powers have been given to the home secretaries of Haryana and Punjab.
In 2018, the Centre had granted similar powers to collectors and home secretaries of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi with regard to certain districts.