Citizenship Amendment Act | Supreme Court refuses to stay the CAA rules; directs Union to file responses to interim stay applications

Citizenship Amendment Act

Judges: D.Y. Chandrachud CJI, J.B. Pardiwala J, Manoj Misra J

Today, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud heard a batch of petitions in the challenge to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and the CAA Rules of 2024. Several interim applications seeking a stay on the Rules were filed after it was notified on 11 March 2024. The stay applications are heard with the larger constitutional challenges to the CAA. 

The CAA provides for the grant of citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from India’s neighbouring countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The recent Rules, the petitioners claim, fast-track the process of granting citizenship by compromising the three-level scrutiny process at the District, State and Central levels. They contend that this could cause irreversible granting of citizenship. 

There are over 230 matters tagged in the case. The lead petitioner is the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), represented by Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal. 

The hearing today turned chaotic as counsels clamoured to get their word in, in this long pending, politically charged case. The Bench patiently heard parties’ concern and issued notice in all the matters where notice was not issued and decided to list the matter for 9 April 2024.


The Citizenship (Amendment Act), 2019 (CAA)  amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant a liberal path to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. The Act notably excludes Muslim migrants from following the same citizenship path.

Wide protests erupted all over the country soon after the Union government passed the Act. Critics argued that in combination with the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NCR), the CAA has the potential to deprive many Muslims residing in India of full citizenship. The proposed NRC will likely deprive many persons, both Muslim and non-Muslim, residing in India of citizenship. While excluded non-Muslims will have the opportunity to regain citizenship via the CAA, this will not be the case for Muslims. Hence, the NRC in combination with the CAA may disproportionately exclude Muslim residents of India.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) filed the first petition challenging the constitutionality of the CAA in December 2019. Soon various other litigants followed and there are currently around 200 petitions tagged to the IUML petition. These petitions primarily challenge the CAA for discriminating on the basis of religion. They also contend that it violates the fundamental rights to equality and dignity of illegal migrants under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Petitioners: Citizenship once granted cannot be reversed

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought four weeks to respond to the stay applications. The petitioners however, protested. Sibal argued that four weeks was too long a time during which the CAA framework could be put into action. As per domestic and international law standards, citizenships granted could not be reversed. “This would make the petitions infructuous,” he said. Mehta persisted. He said that at least four weeks were needed for “practical reasons” to respond to all interim applications.

Further, while clarifying that he was not challenging the locus (grounds) of the petitioners, Mehta reminded the Court that they were not directly impacted by the Act or the Rules. Jaising responded that the petitioners’ locus was not in question here—it was the “constitutionality of the law.”

CJI Chandrachud asked if procedures had been put in place as per the Rules for the grant of citizenship. Mehta responded that there was a “three-tier system” in place. First, an application would go to a District Committee, then an “Empowered Committee” would evaluate the applications. Finally, the Union will complete the final review and make the decision on whether to grant citizenship to a candidate. 

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising and other petitioner counsel repeatedly requested the Court to direct that in the meantime, no citizenship application will be processed. Mehta made it clear that the Union would make no such promises. Senior Advocate K.S. Chaudhary, appearing for one of the petitioners, requested the Court to at least indicate in its order that anything the Union does would be “subject to the decision of this Court.” 

The Bench did not entertain this request. “They don’t even have the infrastructure in place,” the Chief said. 

Jaising argued that petitioners couldn’t rely just on “hope and trust jurisprudence” but in vain. Sibal said, “If something like this happens, we will move the Court again,” indicating that any citizenships granted under the scheme would be litigated. 

The Bench directed all the petitioners seeking a stay on the Rules to file a common affidavit by 2 April 2024. The Union must respond to it by 8 April 2024. The Bench appointed two sets of nodal counsels in the case—one for petitions relating to the states of Assam and Tripura and one for the others. The case is scheduled to be heard again on 9 April 2024.