Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019
18th Dec, 2019
The Union Cabinet has cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there.
- The Union Cabinet has cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there.
- The Act amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who come to India after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act?
- The Act doesn't spell it out clearly, but the fact that it entitles Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians facing religious persecution in the three nations, to seek Indian citizenship, highlights the exclusion of Muslims.
- This amendment is of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which requires the applicant to have resided in India for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment relaxes this requirement from 11 years to six years, for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the three nations.
How is citizenship acquired in India?
In India, citizenship is regulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Act specifies that citizenship may be acquired in India through five methods – by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India.
About Illegal Migrants-
- An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.
- An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents.
- The Act provides that the following minority groups will not be treated as illegal migrants: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, to get this benefit, they must have also been exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the central government.
- The Act says that on acquiring citizenship: (i) such persons shall be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and (ii) all legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
- An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India, and deported or imprisoned.
Provisions of the Act across the Country-
- The Act clarifies that the proposed amendments on citizenship to the specified class of illegal migrants will not apply to certain areas. These are:
- (i) the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, and
- (ii) the states regulated by the “Inner Line” permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873.
- These Sixth Schedule tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District.
- Further, the Inner Line Permit regulates visit of all persons, including Indian citizens, to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Issues surrounding the Act-
- The Act makes only certain illegal migrants eligible for citizenship.
- These are persons belonging to the six specified religious communities, from the three specified countries, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and do not reside in the Sixth Schedule areas or in the states regulated by the Inner Line Permit states.
- This implies that all other illegal migrants will not be able to claim the benefit of citizenship conferred by the Act, and may continue to be prosecuted as illegal migrants.
- Article 14of the Constitution guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners, thus differentiating between people on the grounds of religion would be in violation of the constitution.
- The Act provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of (a) their country of origin, (b) religion, (c) date of entry into India, and (d) place of residence in India.
- The Act classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Statement of Objects and Reasons (SoR) in the Act reasons that millions of citizens of undivided India were living in Pakistan and Bangladesh, no reason has been provided to explain the inclusion of Afghanistan.
- The Act also creates further differentiation between the specified class of illegal migrants based on when they entered India (before or after December 31, 2014), and where they live in India (provisions not applicable to Sixth Schedule and Inner Line Permit areas). However, the reasons provided to explain the distinction is unclear.
- Assam has a major problem regarding infiltration of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. This Act does not consider Bangladeshi Hindus as illegal immigrants.
In context to Overseas Citizens of India-
- The Act also amends the provisions on registration of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).
- OCI cardholders are foreigners who are persons of Indian origin.
- For example, they may have been former Indian citizens, or children of current Indian citizens.
- An OCI enjoys benefits such as the right to travel to India without a visa, or to work and study here. At present, the government may cancel a person’s OCI registration on various grounds specified in the Act.
- In case of a cancellation, an OCI residing in India may be required to leave the country.
- The Act adds another ground for cancelling OCI registration — violation of any law notified by the central government. However, the Act does not provide any guidance on the nature of laws which the central government may notify.
The Citizenship Amendment Act has not been sitting well with the Assamese as it contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, according to which illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported. Also, the Act has introduced religion as a new concept into the citizenship law. Thus, the proposed legislation has polarised the Northeast and triggered a process of social and political realignment in the entire nation. This whole situation undermines the secularity of India. As the Constitution of India rejects discrimination on the grounds of religion, the proposed law makes religion a new basis of identification. Hence, there is an urgent need for India to undertake a balancing act here.