Country is going through difficult times: CJI Bobde
The country is witnessing troubled times and petitions in the Supreme Court should not exacerbate the situation, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde observed on Thursday in response to a plea asking the apex court to uphold the constitutional validity of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and to issue a direction to the Centre and the states to implement the law “aggressively”.
The CAA’s passage last month to fast-track citizenship for non-Muslims, who have entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh before 2015, triggered protests across the country. The protests first erupted in the Northeast, where people fear it could result in a fresh influx of outsiders. At least 21 people died in the violence during anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh on December 20 and 21.
“You know that there is a presumption of constitutionality [of laws]. We do not mean to be offensive but we have never heard of petitions like this asking that an Act should be declared constitutional,” the CJI noted.
The CJI advised caution in filing pleas that may impact attempts to restore peace. “The country is going through difficult times. The object should be to bring about peace. Such petitions do not help. As it is, there is a lot of trouble,” the CJI said.
In her plea, Puneet Kaur Dhanda, a lawyer whose petition was mentioned for urgent listing on Thursday, has pleaded the Supreme Court to declare the law as valid and constitutional. Dhanda has blamed politicians across India for spreading rumors over the CAA and thereby “creating terror and concerns in the minds of the Muslims”.
“There is a presumption in favour of the constitutionality of all statutes, and unless they are struck down by any constitutional court, they are legal, valid and apply with full force. Hence, such prayers seeking such a declaration goes against constitutional jurisprudence,” said advocate Masoom Shah.
Opponents of the law insist it is discriminatory and unconstitutional as it leaves out the Muslims and links faith to citizenship in a secular country. They say it could result in the expulsion or detentions of the Muslims unable to provide the documentation if the law is seen in the context of a proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC). An exercise to identify undocumented immigrants in Assam led to the exclusion of over 1.9 million people from the NRC last year. To be sure, the Centre has clarified that there is no plan for a nationwide NRC yet.
The Kerala assembly on December 31 passed a resolution demanding the scrapping of the CAA.
“The political persons with a vendetta against the government and its progressive approach have created an environment of hatred, fear, violence in various parts of the country for their vested political interest as a result of which around 50 precious lives have been lost in various parts of the country and public property worth hundreds of crores has been destroyed,” Dhanda has said in her petition .
The petitioner has sought action against political parties and media houses “spreading false information and rumours” about the CAA.
The Supreme Court will on Friday hear the Centre’s plea seeking transfer of all petitions filed in high courts against the CAA to the apex court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Wednesday told the apex court that a multiplicity of proceedings would lead to different conclusions regarding the validity of the CAA. It would, therefore, be “in the fitness of things for the Supreme Court to transfer all cases in various high courts to itself”, he argued.
At least 60 petitions against the law are pending before the Supreme Court alone. They will be taken up for hearing in the Supreme Court next on January 22. The Karnataka high court agreed to hear one such petition on Tuesday, saying it will do so since the Supreme Court has not passed any order barring high courts from taking up the matter.
The Indian Union Muslim League, a Kerala-based party was among the first to move the Supreme Court last month against the CAA, saying religious segregation in the law “without any reasonable differentiation, not only violates Article 14 [of the Constitution that provides for equality before the law] but is also blatantly opposed to the very basic structure of the Constitution and to the very idea of India as a country which treats people of all faiths equally”.