The Supreme Court today stayed the implementation of the Citizenship Act Amendment Ordinance, dashing hopes of thousands of eligible citizens who have not been able to obtain their citizenship due to lack of a new federal law.

The ordinance is aimed at providing citizenship to children of citizens by birth and children of Nepali mothers whose fathers cannot be traced.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli led government had issued the ordinance on May 22, a day after dissolving the House of Representatives and declaring mid-term polls. The PM's move of bringing ordinance was aimed at wooing the Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal.

Leaders of the faction later joined Oli's government.

Provision of citizenship to children of citizens by birth was the key demand of the Thakur-Mahato faction of the JSP-N.

The five-member constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana issued a show cause notice to the government seeking a written reply within seven days.

The stay order was issued by the apex court in response to a writ petition filed by Senior Advocate Borna Bahadur Karki and others.

Stating that if the ordinance is not endorsed by the Parliament later, problems may arise for those who can obtain citizenship as per this ordinance, the court said it did not deem it necessary to allow implementation of the ordinance now. It ordered the government not to implement the ordinance and to maintain the status quo until a final verdict in the case.

The bench observed that the government could issue an ordinance when it had to do something urgently. It said issuing an ordinance to accrue political benefits by evading the Parliament can lead to a situation where powers of the Parliament could be unnecessarily infringed upon.

It said that if new provisions have to be added in a sensitive issue like citizenship, then it must be regulated by laws enacted by the legislature.

The nature of the subject does not indicate that 'circumstances exist that render it necessary to take immediate action,' the bench observed.

The bench said that the citizenship ordinance was issued a day after the HoR was dissolved and if such acts were considered normal, it could lead to interference in the work of legislature and could also create obstacles in the implementation of the constitution.

The bench observed that the government failed to give convincing reasons for showing urgency to do something about citizenship issues though the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was under the consideration of the Parliament for the past three years.

SJP-N leader and Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Laxman Lal Karna said that the Supreme Court stayed the ordinance without analysing the background of citizenship issues and problems faced by almost five lakh people eligible for citizenship.

He said the ordinance contained only the provisions of the constitution and there was no dispute among parties in the Parliament over the provisions contained in the ordinance.

"Granting citizenship to children of citizens by birth is the duty of the state. Children of citizens by birth will suffer a great injustice," he said. He added that the government brought the ordinance because even after the restoration of the HoR, the House could not be run smoothly.

Children of citizens by birth and children of Nepali mothers whose fathers cannot identified will be affected

A version of this article appears in the print on June 11, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.