Home NEWS Supreme Court reserves judgment in challenge to Section 6A of Citizenship Act

Supreme Court reserves judgment in challenge to Section 6A of Citizenship Act

Supreme Court, Assam

Supreme Court, Assam

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict in the batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act of 1955 [In Re: Section 6A Citizenship Act 1955].

A bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Surya Kant, MM Sundresh, JB Pardiwala and Hands Misra concluded hearing the arguments of all counsel in the matter.

During the course of the hearing on Tuesday, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta stated that the State of West Bengal has in a place a slow land acquisition policy which was impeding the efforts of the Central government to fence the Indo-Bangladesh border in the State.

Justice Kant then asked who pays compensation for the land acquired for fencing, to which the SG replied,

“Centre for the border areas. And if this is not the case for urgency clause then what [is]? Direct land purchase policy [adopted by the State government] is for industries and not national security concerns.”

Section 6A of the Citizenship Act concerns grant of citizenship to immigrants who are covered by the Assam Accord.

As per Section 6A, people who entered India between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 and have been living in Assam, will be allowed to register themselves as citizens. The outcome of this case will have a major bearing on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list.

The Court had earlier in December noted that the provision was introduced partly to remedy the atrocities committed on the population of East Bengal in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

Therefore, it cannot be likened to an amnesty scheme for illegal immigrants in general, the bench had orally observed. The CJI had observed that the validity of the Section cannot be determined by political developments that arose after its enactment.

The Union Home Ministry had informed the Court on Monday that it would not be able to provide accurate data on the extent of illegal migration of foreigners into India since such migrations happen in a secretive manner.

It had stated on affidavit that 14,346 foreign nationals were deported from the country between 2017 and 2022, and 17,861 migrants who had entered Assam between January 1966 and March 1971 were given Indian citizenship.

During the hearing of the matter today, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde appearing for an intervenor, opposed the petitions

He said that citizenship is something that has far-reaching ramifications.

Senior Advocate CU Singh, appearing for another intervenor, argued that Section 6A does not violate Article 14 of the petitioners and may be treated as citizenship by naturalisation as it is based on continuous residence in Assam.

“Citizens of east and west Pakistan were not eligible through this route. In 1971, Bangladesh was not a part of Pakistan and was a friendly nation then. It was no longer Pakistan. We were the midwives who gave birth to that nation. Bangladesh was a sort of a successor,” he said.

Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid appearing for the Assam Jamiat Ulema E Hind, argued that the provision provides a separate solution that was needed for the State of Assam in the circumstances which were prevailing in the State at that time.

Advocate Shadan Farasat argued that the protection of culture of an area cannot be elevated to the extent of denying nationality to others, as the citizenry then moves from civic nationalism to cultural nationalism.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divancounsel for the lead petitioners seeking striking down of the provision, contended that applications under Section 6A can be made even today and are approved to the detriment of ordinary residents of Assam.

“The carte blanche is to grant citizenship because there is no machinery and thus it is a criteria less citizenship. You prescribe but what is the machinery to determine that the person came to Assam only after 1966. Section 6(2) has to go and there cannot be criteria-less citizenship,” Divan stressed.

The CJI then remarked that the condition of the time period did exist.

“We must realise we deal with people who came before 1966. So here the person has to show entry before 66 or his parents, grandparents. This deeming conferring of citizenship is only for those who can show who came after 1966 … When the law provides for a deeming consequence that consequence operates without adjudication; Deeming fiction as we call it. When the consequence is called into question on the ground that conditions for that consequence is absent, therefore person not entitled for benefit of the section will come into place for adjudication.”

The CJI gave the example of how a person born in 1966, who will be 57 years old at present, can be denied a passport even if he got citizenship through Section 6A.

“The validity of his status can be ascertained then. We can clarify that anybody who claims the status gets the status.”

The bench then proceeded to reserve its verdict in the case.

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