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Assam Accord: SC begins hearing on pleas challenging Section 6A of Citizenship Act

A five-judge constitution bench said that Section 6A was enacted as a humanitarian measure in the wake of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and is deeply interwoven in our history.

Assam Accord: SC begins hearing on pleas challenging Section 6A of Citizenship Act

File Photo: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Section 6A was enacted at a point which is deeply connected to our history as it commenced hearing on a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act incorporated in 1985 inserted by way of an amendment in pursuance to the Assam Accord.

A five-judge constitution bench consisting of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant, Justice MM Sundresh, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra said that Section 6A was enacted as a humanitarian measure in the wake of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and is deeply interwoven in our history.

“We can’t deny that Section 6A was enacted at a point which is deeply connected to our history. Section 6A was enacted at a time when there was a different history, and India had an important role to play in the Bangladesh Liberation War, and we were a part of the war as much as Bangladesh. This was for the atrocities which were being committed on the population of East Bengal then,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said as the bench was told that the influx of the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was disturbing the demography of the State and culture of the local people.

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Further observing that “Parliament seems to have proceeded on the basis that the immigration which took place cannot be regarded purely as illegal but it was something humanitarian,” CJI Chandrachud asked the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to state whether Section 6A was still in operation and the number of people who have been declared as “foreigners” till 2013.

Appearing for the petitioner challenging the validity of the section 6A oi the citizenship Act, on various grounds, senior advocate Shyam Divan said that the Section 6A violates the intent of the Citizenship Act and the values of secularism, fraternity and brotherhood enshrined in the preamble of the constitution.

Divan said that if the Centre has accepted immigrants from Bangladesh, then it was incumbent on it and other States as well that immigrants should be spread over all parts of the country and should not remain housed in Assam alone.

He requested the constitution bench to direct the Central government to frame a court-monitored policy for all States and Union Territories for the settlement and rehabilitation of all the persons who came to Assam.

The matter is before the top court constitution bench on 2014 reference by a two judge bench,

On December 17, 2014 matter relating to the citizenship in Assam was referred to the five-judge Constitution bench. On April 19, 2017, the top court constituted the bench to hear the case.

In 1985, the Indian government and the representatives of the Assam Movement negotiated and drafted the Assam Accord and created categories of immigrants.

Section 6A of the Citizenship Act was introduced to give effect to the Assam Accord. It provides the framework to recognise migrants in Assam as Indian citizens or to expel them based on the date of their migration.

The provision provides that those who have come to Assam on or after January 1, 1966, but before March 25, 1971, from specified territories, including Bangladesh in 1985, and since then are residents of Assam, must register themselves under section 18 for citizenship. Therefore, the provision fixes March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.

Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, a Guwahati based civil society organisation along with others had challenged Section 6A way back in 2012 while arguing that Section 6A is discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal so far as it provides for different cut-off dates for regularising illegal migrant who entered Assam and the rest of India.

The Bangladesh liberation war which led to the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan, witnessed a massive influx of migrants to India. Even prior to when Bangladesh gained independence from East Pakistan in 1971, migration had started to India.

On March 19, 1972, Bangladesh and India entered into a treaty for friendship, cooperation and peace

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