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Case Description

This case will decide the constitutional validity of Section 6A of Citizenship Act, 1955, which is the result of the Assam Accord.

Background

In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. The liberation war led to a massive influx of migrants to India until 1983. In 1983, the Parliament enacted the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT Act). The IMDT Act laid down the procedure to detect illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and expel them from Assam. This Act was applicable to only Assam, while the Foreigners Act, 1946 was applicable to all other states.

In 1985, the Assam Accord was signed between the Government and leaders of the Assam agitation, to end years of rioting and protests against the massive migration. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 – introduced in 1985 – was the legislative enactment of the Assam Accord. It classified ‘illegal’ immigrants of Indian origin who came into Assam from Bangladesh into three groups:

  • those who came into the state before 1966;
  • those who came into the state between 1966 and 25th March, 1971 (the official date of the commencement of the Bangladesh War); and
  • those who came into the state post 25th March,1971.

The first group (pre-’66) was to be regularised, i.e. given citizenship of India. The second group (’66 – ’71) was to be taken off the electoral rolls, and regularised after ten years. The third group (’71-onwards) was to be detected and expelled in accordance with law.

Consequently, the statutory framework for dealing with migration to Assam consisted of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the IMDT Act, 1983.

The IMDT Act was challenged before the Supreme Court in Sarbananda Sonowal v UOIsince it made some departures from the Foreigners Act,1946 and Foreigner Tribunal Order, 1964. The IMDT Act reversed the burden of proof from individuals to State, made reference to tribunal more onerous, and indirectly made it harder to deport illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act and held it as unconstitutional. However, the large-scale illegal migration and political turmoil continued.

Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, along with other organizations, challenged the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 in 2014. A 2-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard the matter and passed an order under Art 145(3) of the Constitution, referring the matter to a larger Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court. On 19th April, a 5-Judge Bench, comprising of Justices Madan B.Lokur, R.K.Agrawal, Prafulla Chandra Pant, D.Y.Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan was constituted.

The petitioners argue that there is no rational basis for having separate cutoff dates for regularising illegal migrants who enter Assam as opposed to the rest of the country.

Issues

Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, violates Article 14 by singling out Assam from other border states?

Whether there is a rational basis for having a separate cut-off date for regularizing illegal migrants who enter Assam as opposed to the rest of the country?

Whether the influx of illegal migrants into an India state constitutes ‘external aggression’ and/or ‘internal disturbance’ under Article 355?

Judges