SC Constitution Bench to hear pleas on Assam Accord, Citizenship Act

NEW DELHI, Feb 21 – The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred to a Constitution Bench the 13 issues relating to validity of the Assam Accord and Clause 6A of the Citizenship Act. The Constitution Bench is likely to hold regular hearing from May 11.

After hearing the matter, a three-member Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice JS Khehar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice SK Kaul today ruled that a Constitution Bench would be constituted to hold hearing on a bunch of petitions during the vacation period.

A second Constitution Bench is expected to be constituted to hear the matter from May 11. The apex court goes into vacation from May 9. But as a special case two Constitution Benches are expected to function during the period, Assam Government’s legal counsel Shuvodeep Roy told this newspaper.

The Asam Sahitya Sabha, Asom Sanmilito Mahasangha and All Assam Ahom Association among others have challenged Clause 6A that provides for the cut-off date of March 25, 1971 for detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrant staying in Assam. This clause is only applicable in Assam.

The Assam Public Works has challenged Clause 4A of the Citizenship Act, which stipules house to house enumeration.

The bunch of 13 petitions was referred to the Constitution Bench on December 17, 2014 by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice RF Nariman under Article 32 of the Constitution. The two-member Bench referred certain vital issues raised in the petitions to the Constitution Bench of five judges of the Supreme Court.

The petitioners raised a number of issues ranging from validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, updating of the NRC, validity of the Assam Accord to checking illegal migration, among others.

The Supreme Court has taken note of the plea of the petitioners that a massive influx of illegal migrants from a neighbouring country has affected the core constitutional value. “In fact, it has been held in Sarbananda Sonowal’s case that such an influx is ‘external aggression’ within the meaning of Article 355 of the Constitution of India, and that the Central Government has done precious little to stem this tide, thereby resulting in violation of Article 355,” the Bench observed.

“The culture of an entire people is being eroded in such a way that they will ultimately be swamped by persons, who have no right to continue to live in this country,” the Bench had observed.

The Supreme Court had directed the Centre to take all effective steps to complete the fencing (double-coiled wire fencing) in such portions of the Indo-Bangla border, including Assam, where currently the fencing is yet to be completed. Vigil along the riverine boundary will be effectively maintained by continuous patrolling, it directed.

The court also directed that for the purpose of detection of illegal migrants, 500 police units and task forces will be activated in the State within one month. The progress achieved at the end of three months from today as against the position on the ground mentioned in the affidavit of the Union Government, will be monitored by the court, it said.

The Supreme Court requested the Gauhati High Court to expedite and to finalise the process of selection of the chairperson and members of the Foreigners Tribunals, if required in phases, depending on the availability of officers opting to serve in the tribunals. Within 60 days of the selection being finalised by the Gauhati High Court, the Assam Government will ensure that the Foreigners Tribunals concerned become operational.

The Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court was further requested to monitor the functioning of the tribunals by constituting a Special Bench, which will sit at least once every month to oversee the functioning of the tribunals.

The Bench had observed that it is seen that the number of tribunals set up is abysmally low, resulting in an abysmally low number of decisions being taken by these tribunals. What is interesting to know is that, while almost 1,50,000 people were deported between 1961 and 1965, under the Immigrants (Expulsion of Assam) Act, 1950, the number of deportation from 1985 till date is stated to be a mere 2,000 odd, it said.


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