Assam NRC: Supreme to hear validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act on October 17

The Constitution Bench directed the parties to follow the standard operating procedure as done during In Re Article 370 hearings, in filing common compilations.

THE Supreme Court will hear a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 from October 17.

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna, M.M. Sundresh, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra gave direction to this effect today.

The Bench also directed a common compilation to be submitted within two weeks and written submissions within three weeks, that is, by October 10.

During the previous hearing, on January 10, the court had framed an issue for primary determination before the Constitution Bench: “Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Act 1955 suffers from any constitutional infirmity”. 

The court had also passed procedural directions on preparing a common compilation of precedent, legislation and documentary material. Counsels Diksha Rai, Manish Goswami and Mr Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi had been nominated as nodal counsels.

Today, the Bench referred to the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued via a circular dated August 22 to streamline soft copies of common compilations, particularly before Constitution Benches.

The SOP was followed during In Re Article 370, where the Constitution Bench heard petitions challenging the deoperationalisation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

The Bench said that the SOP had proven useful during Re Article 370, and directed the parties to submit the common compilation in conformity with the SOP. The Bench also directed nodal officers to ensure that the compilation submitted by parties is in accordance with the SOP.

The title of the proceedings challenging the constitutionality of Section 6A of the Constitution Act was fixed as In Re Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Challenge to Section 6A of the Citizenship Act

The Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 gave rise to apprehensions of influx of foreign nationals into Assam and the fear of adverse effects upon the political, social, cultural and economic life of the state.

This led to the Assam Accord of August 1985, a tripartite agreement between the Assam government, the Union of India, and the All Assam Students Union.

Section 6A was inserted in the Citizenship Act in 1985 to give effect to the Assam Accord, and allow the grant of citizenship to those immigrants who had entered the state of Assam before March 25, 1971.

In 2012, Assam Sanmilitia Mahasangha and other organisations, representing ‘the tribal and non-tribal population’ of Assam, challenged the constitutionality of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act.

The petitioners questioned the separate cut-off date for Assam, which is March 1971, as opposed to the rest of the country, which is July 1948 (as provided under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act).

It was the contention of the petitioners that the sovereignty and integrity of the country were at stake due to the massive influx of ‘illegal’ immigrants, leading to the erosion of Assamese culture.

In December 2014, a division Bench comprising the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman framed 13 questions pertaining to the various issues challenging the constitutionality of Section 6A, and fixed a timeline for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The process of updating the 1951 NRC began subsequently under the monitoring of the Supreme Court.

In July 2015, the Bench referred the matter to a Constitution Bench. It further directed the updating of the NRC in accordance with the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

Thereafter, in July 2018, the final draft of the ‘Supreme Court-monitored exercise’ to prepare the NRC was released. Out of the 3.29 crore applicants, 40 lakh names were left out.

In response to the release of the NRC, the division Bench observed that since the published NRC is only a draft, it “cannot be the basis of any action by any authority”.

The court permitted the Union government to undertake modalities to deal with claims or objections to enable publication of the final NRC.

Under the continuing monitoring of the Supreme Court, in August 2019, the final Assam NRC list was published. A total of 19 lakh names among the 3.3 crore applicants were excluded from the list.

In May 2021, the Assam NRC authority approached the Supreme Court to seek re-verification of the citizen’s list and highlighted irregularities in the process.