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A three-judge bench of Supreme Court led by Chief Justice SA Bobde today will hear over 140 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The Union law which has provoked weeks of protests throughout the country, gives persecuted minorities except for Muslims, from three neighbouring countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh– the right to apply for citizenship.

While a large number of petitions before the top court calls the law discriminatory and unconstitutional, there are other pleas as well seeking a declaration that the Act is constitutional and hence must be implemented in letter and spirit.

The law which came into force on January 10 has been challenged by several political parties and student organizations, including Congress, DMK, CPI, CPIM, IUML, SFI and AIMM among several others.

Most of the petitioners challenging the law have submitted that the CAA discriminates people by making religion a criterion to apply for citizenship and this religious segregation blatantly violates Article 14, and consequently the basic structure of the Constitution.

The bench, which also comprises S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, earlier on December 18, refused to hear a petition challenging the law and stay its execution, saying that the country is going through “difficult times” and our endeavour must be to ensure peace.

The apex court had already issued notice to the Centre, seeking its response on the petitions challenging its legislation. The Centre had subsequently filed a transfer petition seeking similar petitions filed in the high courts of different states to be transferred to the Supreme Court.

The new citizenship law, which amended the definition of “illegal migrants” contained in Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, was passed by Parliament on December 11, 2019. The Parliament added a proviso to Section 2 that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, shall not be treated as an illegal immigrant.

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