North East India continues to remain on the edge two days after the parliament passed the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill. The legislation gives citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who arrived in India before December 31, 2014.
The situation in Guwahati, the epicentre of the anti-citizenship bill protests remains tense. Four people have lost their lives in the widespread protests across Assam so far. Amidst all this, home minister Amit Shah has cancelled his scheduled trip to Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Japan PM Shinzo Abe has cancelled his trip to Guwahati as well.
To discuss the constitutionality of the bill, CNBC-TV18 spoke to Justice AK Ganguly, Former Supreme Court Judge.
Ganguly said, "This bill on a plain reading makes a discrimination. The bill amends the concept of illegal immigrants. Normally an illegal immigrant is a person who enters India without proper travel documents. However, this bill says it is those who have entered India after December 31, 2014, belonging to six religious communities like Hindu, Christians, Buddhists, Jain, Parsi and Sikh community and from three countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. If they are exempted under the Passport Act and the Foreigners Act they will not be treated as illegal immigrants. In order to give them citizenship, there have been some consequential amendments. However, the main amendment is not treating these people as illegal immigrants. The bill is plainly discriminatory as it has only chosen three countries and chosen only a couple of religious communities excluding Muslims which is the largest minority in this country. The constitution makes it clear that it is secular, it cannot favour a religious community nor can it disfavour a religious community. So, this is something to my mind prima facie violates Article 14."
Justice Ganguly also explained why states have no option but to follow the new law.
"This bill has now become a law because the President has given its assent and is passed by the two houses of the parliament. This is a bill relating to citizenship, this is completely a central subject under Entry 17 List 1 of the 7th Schedule. So, once it becomes a law the state is bound to implement it. If you look at Article 256 of the constitution, it says clearly that the executive power of the state shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with laws made by parliament. This is a law made by parliament and it is a parliamentary legislature, they have plenary power to make laws. Unless the court says that it is ultra vires, unless the court declares it so, it is a valid piece of legislation. We may criticize the law, we may feel unhappy about the law but no state government can say considering the constitutional dispensation that they will not implement the law. There is no choice for the state government because this is a central law which is validly passed," he said