These petitions had been lying dormant while the court had gone ahead and monitored the publication of the final Assam NRC list in August 2019 and the government had enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Under Section 6A, foreigners who had entered Assam before January 1, 1966, and been “ordinarily resident” in the State, would have all the rights and obligations of Indian citizens. Those who had entered the State between January 1, 1966, and March 25, 1971, would have the same rights and obligations except that they would not be able to vote for 10 years.
Petitions were filed challenging the “discriminatory” nature of Section 6A in granting citizenship to immigrants, illegal ones at that. The petitioners, including Assam Public Works and others, argued that the special provision was in violation of Article 6 of the Constitution which fixed the cut-off date for granting citizenship to immigrants at July 19, 1948.
One of the petitioners, Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, a Guwahati-based civil society organization, had sought the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam on the basis of the 1951 NRC and not on the electoral rolls of March 1971.
On December 2014, the Supreme Court had framed 13 questions covering various issues raised against the constitutionality of Section 6A, including whether the provision diluted the “political rights of the citizens of the State of Assam”; whether it was a violation of the rights of the Assamese people to conserve their cultural rights; whether an influx of illegal migrants in India constitute ‘external aggression’ and ‘internal disturbance’, among others.
In 2015, a three-judge Bench of the court referred the case to a Constitution Bench.
All these years, the ‘Section 6A’ case had waited out even as the Supreme Court-monitored the preparation and publication of the final Assam NRC list in August 2019, which saw the exclusion of over 19 lakh people. The Assam NRC authority has now approached the court seeking a re-verification. The past years also saw the enactment of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act which allowed accelerated citizenship to immigrants who belong to minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
On Tuesday, appearing before the five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Chandrachud, senior advocate Indira Jaising said the case concerned people who have been citizens for a period of 40 years.
“Whether people who have acquired citizenship can now be denied citizenship now… this question should be heard as a preliminary issue,” Ms. Jaising, for one of the parties, urged the court.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, also for a party, said the focus of the case was the validity of Section 6A, and that should be decided first and foremost.
Mr. Dave also highlighted questions raised about Section 3 of the 1955 Act concerning children born in India to parents, one of whom is an Indian and the other a foreigner.
The court asked the lawyers to meet and finalize the issues and present them before the Bench on January 10.