Why in the News?
- A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, on December 5, began hearing pleas challenging Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
- The provision was introduced in the statute following the signing of the Assam Accord.
What’s in Today’s Article?
- About Assam Accord (History, Need, Features, etc.)
- Section 6A of Citizenship Act (Provisions)
- News Summary (SC’s Observation, Govt. Arguments)
What is Assam Accord?
- The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement.
- The Assam Movement (also Anti-Foreigners Agitation) (1979–1985) was a popular uprising in Assam that demanded the Government of India to detect, disenfranchise and deport illegal aliens.
- The protestors demanded the identification and deportation of all illegal foreigners – predominantly Bangladeshi immigrants.
- The movement ended in 1985 with the Assam Accord.
- According to the Assam Accord, the Government of India agreed to secure the international border against future infiltration by:
- Erection of physical barriers like walls, barbed wire fencing and other obstacles at appropriate places,
- Deploying a patrol by security forces on land and river routes all along the international Bangladesh-India border.
- The Accord created three classes of immigrants based on which Indian citizenship would be granted:
- Immigrants who entered Assam before 1 January 1966 would be considered Indian citizens and were allowed to vote.
- Immigrants who entered Assam after 1 January 1966 but before 24 March 1971 would be considered Indian citizens but would not be allowed to vote for the first 10 years following their detection as Indian citizens.
- Immigrants who entered Assam on or after 25 March 1971 would be considered illegal immigrants and would be expelled from India.
- The accord brought an end to the Assam Movement and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.
- Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, containing above mentioned special provisions for the state of Assam, was introduced to give effect to the Assam Accord.
Why Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 is being Challenged?
- Currently, a bench of the Supreme Court is hearing a series of petitions by indigenous Assamese groups challenging Section 6A of the Citizenship Act.
- The groups have argued that the special provision has become a “beacon” for illegals entering India to settle in Assam as they gain Indian citizenship, deprive the locals of their political and economic rights and destroy the Assamese cultural identity.
- The petitioners have challenged the constitutional validity of Section 6A by contending that it is arbitrary as it singles out Assam, violates Article 14 and has led to an influx of illegal migrants into the state from Bangladesh.
- The petitioners want 1951 to be established as the cut-off date for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens instead of 1971.
- The primary petitioner is the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha (ASM) — an organisation which says it advocates for the rights of “indigenous” communities of Assam.
- Their core argument is that by establishing a different cut-off date for Indian citizenship in Assam than in the rest of India — which is July 1948 — Section 6 A is “discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal” and violative of the rights of “indigenous” Assamese people.
- A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, while hearing the petitions, observed that there is a “feeling” that an “unlimited influx” of illegal migrants from Bangladesh not only changes demographics but also poses a burden on resources meant for Indian citizens.
- The court asked the Centre why Section 6A, which gave illegal migrants the benefit of Indian citizenship, was made applicable only in Assam and not in West Bengal, which shared a larger portion of the border with Bangladesh.
- The Supreme Court ordered the Home Secretary to file an affidavit before 11th May 2023 on the “estimated inflow of illegal migrants into India, including but not confined to Assam, after March 25, 1971”, steps taken by the Centre to deal with the illegal immigration and details on the extent of and timelines for the border-fencing.
- The court asked the government to give details about illegal immigration, post March 25, 1971, into the West Bengal part of the border.
Central Government’s Arguments:
- The central government has rejected the charge that the state has been singled out to bear the load of the illegal migrants.
- It has argued that both on historical and geographical grounds, it is possible to classify different states of India differently and, therefore, the classification which is implied in Section 6-A must be said to be based on intelligible differentia.
- Rejecting arguments of arbitrariness, the Centre said that the guarantee against non-arbitrariness under Article 14 does not require that every law must have universal application irrespective of dissimilarity or of the nature or attainments of the persons to whom it relates.