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Bengal, Punjab & Kerala refuse to roll out citizenship law. But can they?

As protests against citizenship law rage on in the country, legal experts weigh in on if it’s constitutionally possible for states to resist implementation of the law.

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New Delhi: Even before the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 became a law, three chief ministers had declared that they won’t implement it in their states.

The bill, which was signed unto law by President Ram Nath Kovind late Thursday, promises citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants of six communities — Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

It has been criticised for excluding Muslims, and massive protests have broken out across the country over its rollout.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was the first to voice her objection, declaring at rally earlier this week “we will never ever allow it in Bengal”.

Banerjee was followed by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan — both saying the citizenship law will not be implemented in their states.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath too hinted that his government may resist the implementation of the Act in the State and will follow the Congress’ stand on the matter.

But is it constitutionally possible for these states to resist implementation of the law? Experts do not think so.

Also read: On Citizenship Bill, Modi and Amit Shah don’t really care what Supreme Court will say

What Constitution says

Citizenship, naturalisation and aliens fall in the Union List in the Constitution of India, empowering the central government to make laws on the subject.

Additionally, Article 256 of the Constitution makes it a state’s obligation to ensure compliance with central laws.

The Article states, “The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State…”

‘States have no choice’

Senior Advocate K.T.S. Tulsi told ThePrint that states do not have a choice in the matter.

“The states will have to act on the basis of the law, as enacted. The union law prevails over state law. So I don’t think the states will have a choice,” he said.

“Maybe they are just expressing their unwillingness to toe the line, but when it comes to the crunch, they’ll have to.”

If they resist, Tulsi said, the high courts will enforce it.

Also read: CAB protests a battle for India – either we are a secular state or we aren’t India at all

Former Lok Sabha secretary and Constitutional expert P.D.T. Achary also agreed with this viewpoint.

“Constitutionally, it isn’t possible for the states to say that they will not implement the law made by Parliament. The Constitution requires the state to implement the law made by Parliament; the Constitution is clear on this. So, states do not have any option,” he said.

“If they resist, the central government can intervene and take over the administration of the state.”

Non-cooperation but not without consequences

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan told ThePrint that while states could show resistance by refusing to cooperate in implementation of the Act, this won’t be without consequences.

“Despite the fact that it is a central enactment and citizenship is purely a national federal issue, when it actually comes to its implementation on the ground, they would need the assistance of the local authorities — both civil and judicial. For this, they would need the police and the administrative machinery on the ground,” he said.

“All these are essentially under the administration of various states. If the states ensure that their machinery does not cooperate on this issue, then it’ll become very difficult for them to implement it in certain parts of the country,” added Sankaranarayanan.

On being asked what would happen if the states continued to resist, he said this could instigate the central government to claim a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state and impose President’s Rule in the state.

“This is a possible consequence if the states continue along this path. And it would be difficult to fault the central government for implementing it, because the idea is that there should be cooperation,” he said.

Also read: Assam’s fears rooted in history, unlike the communal spin Indian ‘intellectuals’ gave to CAB


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  1. Screw the Indian Constitution and the Supreme Court – now it is a free for all. Everyone will do whatever they can get away with. Welcome to New India…

  2. Congress CM s will implement laws passed by Pakistan parliament . Their loyality to India is becoming suspect. They opposed abolition of article 370. They are opposed abolition of tr-ripple Tallaq . They Don t want Hindu and other non-Muslim refugee should be given sympathetic consideration in granting Indian citizenship. Their heart always beats for cross -boarder Muslims. Nothing can be more shameful.

    • Is this the level to which our political discourse has descended ? If you do not agree with us, your heart beats for Pakistan, some of you may actually be getting a monthly stipend from the ISI. Each Chief Minister – barring some who buy horses for a living – has been democratically chosen by the people of his state. Sometimes by voting out the previous incumbent. A few years down the line, he may meet the same fate. 2. India’s modern history is divided into neat five year blocks. What was achieved during each tenure, what the hits and misses were, can be neatly tabulated. That would be a better way to judge parties and leaders.

  3. After a lifetime of observing public affairs, have learnt to discount what the constitutional experts say. Any Senior Advocate worth his Bentley can argue both sides of the same case with equal conviction. Go to the extent of saying that secularism is a “ nebulous “ concept. 2. In strict law, CAA is not a slam dunk. If anything, it defies the basic structure of the Constitution. It is already before the apex court. Not a contested title suit where latitude exists. To uphold it would require upending the constitutional order. So state governments would wait expectantly for the SC’s verdict. 3. Not everything is cast in legal stone. If a dozen important states refuse on a point of principle to implement this law, the path ahead would turn rocky. To give a more prosaic example, see the large crowds defying curfew to mill about the streets of Gauhati. Sometimes tact outweighs brute force.

    • Just today we had Supreme Court justice wondering out loud whether the basic structure of the constitution really is unchangeable. Withy mighty big hint that it’s not.

      Don’t care whether Sickularism is Nebulous, but Constitution certainly is.

    • The basic structure doctrine is bogus — genesis in apex court’s power grab, as in appointing their own through the dubious Collegium and constantly wanting to do yhe executive’s job.
      Keshavanand Bharti case set the basic structure b.s. by the thinnest of majority verdicts (6-5).

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