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CAA and the test of India’s Constitutional Identity

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    16th Sep, 2022

Context

Recently, Supreme Court agreed to listen to the petitions against the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.

About

  • Since 2003, Indian law has disqualified persons deemed to be “illegal migrants” from citizenship and disqualified their progeny even if they are born in India.
  • The Act exempts non-Muslim immigrants from being considered “illegal migrants” if they arrived from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan before 2015.
  • It also provides accelerated ‘naturalization’ to these non-Muslim immigrants.

Acquisition of Citizenship in India

There are four ways in which Indian citizenship can be acquired: birth, descent, registration, and naturalisation. The provisions are listed under the Citizenship Act, of 1955.

What is CAA?

  • The CAA provides citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented non-Muslim communities (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians) from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India on or before 31st December 2014.
  • It exempts the members of the six communities from any criminal case under the Foreigners Act, of 1946, and the Passport Act, of 1920.

Supreme Court’s scrutiny

  • The first question for the Supreme Court is whether this “religious test” for Indian citizenship is arbitrary and discriminatory. 
  • Over this questioning, the government will need to justify limiting CAA’s benefits on the basis of religion and countries of origin.

Constitutional Provisions for Citizenship in India

  • Article 5 speaks about the citizenship of India at the commencement of the Constitution (Nov 26, 1949).
  • Article 11 gave powers to the Parliament of India to regulate the right of citizenship by law. This provision resulted in the enactment of the Citizenship Act 1955 by the Indian Parliament.

How CAA will be implemented?

  • Based on the National Register of Citizens 1951, a register prepared after the conduct of the Census of 1951 in respect of each village, showing the houses or holdings in serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein.
  • The NRC was published only once in 1951. The NRC of 1951 and the Electoral Roll of 1971 (up to midnight of 24 March 1971) are together called Legacy Data.
  • Persons and their descendants whose names appeared in these documents are certified as ‘Indian citizens’.
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