The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) without hearing the Centre, and gave the Government four weeks to respond to petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the law.

The Apex Court Bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, acknowledged that the CAA is “uppermost in everybody’s mind” and indicated the setting up of a Constitution Bench to hear the matter.

Hearing a batch of 143 petitions, the Bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, restrained all High Courts from hearing pleas on the CAA till it arrives at a decision. It said it will hear the petitions pertaining to Assam and Tripura separately.

“I don’t think anything (any law like the CAA) is irreversible. There will have to be a date for hearing this interim prayer (for a stay on CAA)… This case is uppermost in everybody’s mind,” the CJI said.

The court made it clear that it will not pass any ex-parte order without hearing the Centre on staying the operation of the CAA and exercise of the National Population Register (NPR).

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for some petitioners, wanted the issue referred to a Constitution Bench and the NPR exercise postponed by a couple of months. He also urged the Bench to put on hold the operationalisation of the CAA. The Bench said, “Even we think that the matter should be heard by a Constitution Bench.” The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain and Parsi communities who came to the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014.

The petitioners include the Indian Union Muslim League, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi. They have challenged the constitutional validity of the CAA, saying it violates the fundamental Right to Equality. While protestors against CAA-NPR-NRC expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court’s decision, political parties took a more pragmatic line. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi termed the occasion as historic. “The nation is looking to the Supreme Court with intense optimism. The judgment would decide the path that the country takes from now onwards.”