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The Central government has defended the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) before the Supreme Court, saying that the legislation has a narrow purpose and ought not be conflated beyond the legislative intent.
The controversial Act, which has sparked nationwide protests, has been described as "benign legislation" by the Centre in its counter affidavit. The Centre has submitted that the Act merely seeks to provide some respite to persons belonging to persecuted communities in neighbouring theocratic countries.
The classification made in the Act to extend the benefit of fast-tracked citizenship through naturalisation to persons belonging to six communities from three neighbouring Islamic countries has faced criticism on the grounds of being communal.
This classification, however, has been strongly defended by the Centre in its reply. It states that the government has the power to make classification and distinguish individuals for the purpose of legislation.
The legislative intent behind making certain classifications of persons is important and such classifications, if made for the purpose of special legislations, may hold good as long as they are not arbitrary and based on intelligible differentia, the Centre has averred.
The Centre has also asserted that the treatment meted out to the six communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan had attracted the attention of various previous Indian governments and the same was acknowledged. No previous government, however, took legislative steps to address the same, it is stated.
The purpose and the scope of CAA is not to "to provide answers to all or any kind of purported persecution", but it has a narrow scope given that the legisaltion is a "narrowly tailored legislation seeking to address the specific problem which awaited India's attention for solution," the affidavit adds further.
"The constitutionality of such a legislative measure ought to be tested within that legislative domain and cannot be conflated to extend beyond that object and the reasons behind the Parliamentary cognizance of the issue by which the competent Legislature has, in its wisdom, devised a legislative policy to deal with the acknowledged problem of persecution of the particular communities in the specified countries who are, by their very Constitutions, theocratic countries."
While stressing on the plenary power of the Parliament to legislate on subject of citizenship, it is said that the same subject "may not be within the scope of judical review."
It is also contended that the legislation will not impinge upon any of the rights of Indian citizens. It is submitted that the CAA will only confer the right of citizenship upon the eligible persons from the classified communities, but will not affect the rights of persons that existed prior to the Amendment to the Act.
In January this year, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had hinted that the challenge to the Act may be heard by a Constitution Bench.
However, without passing any order to that effect, the Court had granted time to the Centre to file its reply to the batch of petitions.