Not religion, but “religious persecution” in neighbouring countries, was the basis of the “reasonable… classification” made by The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, the Centre told the Supreme Court Tuesday, adding the legislation was, however, “not meant to be an omnibus solution to issues across the world”.
In its affidavit filed in response to a clutch of petitions challenging the Act, the Union Home Ministry answered charges that the law — which caters only to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — was arbitrary in nature as it left out persecuted Rohingya’s of Myanmar, Tibetan Buddhists from China and Tamils from Sri Lanka.
The affidavit said, “The said classified communities are persecuted in the particular neighbouring countries as has been acknowledged and recognised by Parliamentary Committees as well as other contemporaneous official record and during the debates in the Indian Parliament”.
The government, however, added that the CAA “is not meant to be an omnibus solution to issues across the world and the Indian Parliament cannot be expected to take note of possible persecutions that may be taking place across various countries in the world”.
The affidavit termed the CAA “a benign piece of legislation which seeks to provide a relaxation, in the nature of an amnesty, to specific communities from the specified countries with a clear cut-off date”.
The problems of these communities “has been attracting the attention of successive governments but no government took any legislative measure and merely acknowledged the problem”, the ministry said, adding, it “does not violate the cherished principle of secularism” or “the freedom of religion of any person, including illegal migrants for that matter”.
The government also emphasised that CAA “…in no manner whatsoever, seeks to affect the legal, democratic or secular rights of any of the Indian citizens”.
The existing regime for obtaining citizenship of India by foreigners of any country is untouched by the CAA and legal migration, on the basis of valid documents and visa, continues to be permissible from all countries, including from the three specified ones, the government added.
Denying charges that the Act violates the right to equality under Article 14, the affidavit said the SC had held in the past that in matters concerning foreign policy, citizenship, economic policy, etc., a wider latitude for classification is available to the Parliament/Legislature…” Citizenship being an executive policy of the sovereign, the scope of judicial review, even if available, will be very restricted, it said.
The government refuted the charge that the Act violates secularism, and said it “reaffirms India’s faith and commitment to secularism by protecting the minorities in non-secular countries within the neighbourhood”.
The CAA will not lead to expulsion of a person classified as illegal immigrant, the affidavit said, adding the process of determining somebody as illegal immigrant was covered by other statutes.
On the National Register of Citizens (NRC), it said “the legal provisions regarding the National Register of Citizens i.e. Section 14A of the 1955 (Citizenship) Act have been part of said 1955 Act since December, 2004” and that the “said provisions consist merely of the procedure and the authority concerned for the preparation of” NRC. It added that “the preparation of a national register of citizens is a necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens”.
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