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No SC stay on CAA, process of NPR; govt has 4 weeks to respond | India News


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, declining to take note of protests and anti-CAA resolutions by the Kerala and Punjab assemblies, and brushed aside repeated pleas for deferment of processes relating to the National Population Register (NPR) as a corollary of CAA.

The court said the petitions would be heard by a five-judge Constitution bench and granted the Centre four weeks to file a comprehensive response. This means the hearing will not start before February 22.

A bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna had a tough time dealing with a record 144 petitions represented by nearly 300 advocates leading to a packed courtroom and a cacophonous atmosphere. It took CJI Bobde close to 15 minutes to bring order for a string of renowned advocates — Kapil Sibal, A M Singhvi, Rajeev Dhavan, Vikas Singh, K V Vishwanathan, Shyam Divan, Indira Jaising, Jayant Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves and Sajan Poovaayya — to argue against CAA and NPR.

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Importantly, the bench agreed with submissions that petitions from Assam and Tripura should be heard separately from the larger clutch as they were opposing CAA on a ground very different from other parts of the country. They said the people of Assam were agitated as the CAA abruptly changed the cut-off date for grant of citizenship to illegal migrants from Bangladesh from March 24, 1971 (as fixed in the 1985 Assam Accord) to December 31, 2014 in the CAA. The court said these petitions would be heard after two weeks.

The bench’s pronouncement, “we are not going to grant any ex parte stay”, saw Sibal arguing that the process for implementation of NPR would start in April and it would be in the interest of justice if the court asked the government to defer it for two months. However, attorney general K K Venugopal and solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “That kind of interim order will be as good as a stay order.”

Sibal attempted several indirect pleas to get at least the NPR process deferred, but the CJI-led bench said, “If the law is prevented from being implemented or ordered to be deferred, it is as good as granting a stay. We are not going to do any such thing without hearing arguments on the requirement of stay. Arguments for interim order will also be heard by the Constitution bench.” When Sibal persisted, the CJI said, “The (CAA) law will always remain subject to the outcome of the petitions.”

Explaining why it was not considering arguments on interim stay at this stage, the CJI said, “The problem is that petitions are continuously being filed. If the court passes an interim order on one batch of petitions, then a fresh batch will file petitions seeking review of it on the ground that they were not heard. And it will go on and on in a vicious cycle.”

Sibal said the importance of the issue raised by the petitions and its consequences for the nation warranted hearing by a five judge Constitution bench. The bench agreed and said, “Why not? Maybe all the petitions should be referred to a five-judge bench.”

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