India’s Supreme Court has sought government response to petitions filed against new citizenship legislation after it refused to stay the law that has sparked widespread opposition and protests across the country.
The top court on Wednesday gave the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi four weeks to reply to a batch of 143 pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last month.
“I don’t think there is anything positive for the petitioners which happened today,” Faizan Mustafa, a constitutional expert, told Al Jazeera.
“Had there been a stay [by the court] all the protests would have come to an end today,” said Mustafa, the vice-chancellor of NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad.
Critics say the law passed in December is discriminatory to Muslims – India’s largest minority – as it makes faith the basis for obtaining citizenship.
But the Hindu nationalist government says the law aims to give persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries the right to apply for citizenship.
The legislation has provoked weeks of protests, with critics calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional as it excludes Muslims from these countries.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said it may refer the petitions to a larger constitution bench.
Routine hearing, another 4 weeks. No stay or even postponement of CAA.
This SC is at best a reluctant warrior in the battle to defend letter, spirit & soul of the constitution.
We the People of India must continue the movement to save the Constitution that we gave to ourselves. https://t.co/xAfrg8IgvH
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) January 22, 2020
“Why does the government need four weeks to reply to them [court]? Shouldn’t the government demonstrate willingness to seek a judicial closure in the matter,” asked Sanjay Jha, a spokesman of the opposition Congress party.
“We believe that the matter will be heard by a constitutional bench which will finally take a call. But we must remember that justice delayed is justice denied. A speedy resolution is the need of the hour.”
The top court had said earlier that it would hear the challenges to the law “once the violence stops”, referring to incidents during the protests.
Nearly 30 people across the country have been killed in the protests amid allegations of police brutality.
Home Minister Amit Shah’s announcement in parliament that his government will implement a nationwide counting of citizens – National Register of Citizens or NRC – has spooked people, particularly Muslims who form nearly 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.
Shah, a close aide of Modi, has ruled out rollback of the law.
BJP spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao hailed the court order saying this is a slap for those who were “attempting to bulldoze institutions to suit their political agenda”.
“Honourable Supreme Court has rejected unfair demands of the Congress and opposition lawyers to stay CAA,” he said.
“The government will present all the arguments in favour of the CAA and is confident that the honourable court will find this humanitarian legislation within the ambit of constitutional framework and reflecting its spirit.”
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report from New Delhi