The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned the plea challenging the Adaptation of Laws (Amendment) Order 2019, whereby the State of Assam has been excluded from Inner Line Area, in light of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramaniun allowed the Centre four weeks on the Attorney General's request. AG KK Venugopal stated that the Centre was having a comprehensive re-look at the law and required some time.
CJI SA Bobde stated "We want to hear this matter. Even in the Kashmir issue, the same point was involved. Please reconsider your decision. We were going to do that in the final hearing also"
This is a Presidential Order, notified on December 11, 2019.
On June 3, the top court had refused to stay the 2019 Presidential Order, whereby the State of Assam has been excluded from Inner Line Area, in light of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019. The bench had however issued notice on the plea and sought the Centre's response.
It is pertinent to note that under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, most parts of Assam could be notified as Inner Line Area by the State Government, to safeguard tribal interests. This, read with Section 6B(4) of the Citizenship Act 1955 inserted through Section 3 of the CAA, would have helped the State government of Assam to protect its indigenous people by not allowing migrants to intrude in the State.
Section 6B(4) exempts Inner Line Notified Areas under Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 from the application of Section 6B of the CAA (under which Citizenship will be granted).
However, vide the impugned Presidential Order the government has deprived the State of Assam from the applicability of Section 6B(4), that too just one day prior to the enactment of the CAA, 2019.
In this backdrop, the Petitioner submitted,
"It was well known fact to the Central Government that the State of Assam is facing tremendous problem due to huge influx of illegal immigrants and under such a situation bringing Adaptation of Laws (Amendment) Order 2019 so as to deprive the State of Assam from the applicability of Section 6B (4) of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 is in sheer violation of Articles 14, 21, 29, 325, 326 and 355 of the Constitution of India."
"the problem of Assam due to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 could have been avoided by bringing Assam into "The Inner Line" area. However the Central Government in a most arbitrary manner removed the name of Assam from the Regulation apparently to deprive the State of Assam from availing any such benefits to get rid of the present chaotic situation."
It has been contended that impugned Presidential Order, passed under Article 372 (2) of the Constitution is anyhow unconstitutional and illegal as by virtue of Article 372 (3)(a), the power of the President under Article 372 (2) has become obsolete after 1953.
Article 372(3)(a) states,
"Nothing in clause (2) shall be deemed to empower the President to make any adaptation or modification of any law after the expiration of three years from the commencement of this Constitution."
The Petitioner organization has further argued that the explicit objective of Section 6B(4) is to constitutionally protect indigenous people in North Eastern states. Nevertheless, various Districts, which form part of 90% of the present State of Assam, have been substituted to the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and area of districts of State of Nagaland. This implies that the entire states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur have been excluded from having to grant citizenship to any persons from Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Pakistan under the CAA; whereas, the state of Assam has been exposed to the threat of "massive influx" of migrants.
This, the Petitioner has contended, is arbitrary, since this geographical classification completely overlooks the "rational nexus with the policy and objects of the Act".
It has also been argued that the CAA in itself is an "absurd" Act inasmuch as the standard of proving citizenship therein is a "self declaration form".
"If this procedure is adopted to consider the citizenship of a illegal immigrant then any person can enter anytime into India and claim citizenship. Even any other person who does not fall in the definition of the amended Act can change his name and swear a false affidavit," they contended.
The Petitioner organization pointed out that the CAA is ultra vires Article 21 of the Constitution, inasmuch the lives and liberty of the Citizens of Assam will be affected adversely by the massive influx of illegal immigrant as citizens of India.
"The State of Assam has repeatedly witnessed ethnic clashes and violence leading to loss of human lives and destruction of properties. The State is unable to ensure the safety and security of its inhabitants thereby resulting in a direct infringement of Article 21 of the Constitution of India," the plea read.
The Petitioner added,
"As as a result of this grant of citizenship the indigenous people of Assam will be reduced to a minority in their home State and the Central Government in an absolutely arbitrary and illegal manner brought the impugned to Adaptation of Laws (Amendment) Order, 2019 to completely handicap the State of Assam. Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be a weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined," the plea read.
Reliance was placed on Sarbananda Sonowal v. Union of India, (2005) 5 SCC 665, wherein the Apex Court had observed that "Article 29(1) confers a Fundamental Right on all sections of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own to conserve the same and any invasion of this ' Right would be ultra-vires."
The Petitioner pleaded that by promulgating the impugned Act, the government has failed to discharge its duty under Article 355 of the Constitution to take all measures for protection of the State and it rather undermines the interest of people of Assam. The Petitioner added that the Act also violates Article 325 and 326 of the Constitution as it dilutes the political rights of the citizens of Assam.
Under these circumstances, the Petitioner has sought that the impugned Presidential Order be declared arbitrary and ultra vires the Constitution, so as to bring the districts of Assam under the Inner Line Area.
In the interim, the Petitioner has sought that the operation of the impugned Presidential Order be stayed, so that during the pendency of the case the State Government of Assam enjoys the liberty to notify "The Inner Line" Area in Assam too so as to protect the State of Assam and its people from the grave effect of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.
The petition has been filed by Advocate-On-Record Kaushik Choudhury and Nicholas Choudhury.