The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 9, 2019. It was passed on the same day in Lok Sabha.
What are the objectives of the Citizenship Act,1955?
The bill is re-introduced to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955, which was enacted to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship i.e. to regulate who can acquire Indian citizenship and on what basis.
The original act states that a person may become an Indian citizen if
- they are born in India or
- have Indian parents or
- resided in the country for a period of time, etc.
But the Indian citizenship is not provided to illegal migrants. An illegal migrant is a foreigner who
- enters the country without valid travel documents or
- enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted period.
The Indian Government can imprison or deport illegal migrants under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
A foreigner may register as an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) under the 1955 Act if they are of Indian origin or the spouse of a person of Indian origin. They have the right to travel to India, to work and study in India.
What is the need of the amendment?
During the partition of 1947, several citizens of undivided India of various religions were staying in the regions of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have provisions for a specific state religion. Therefore many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced discrimination on grounds of religion in those countries. Many such persons fled to India and continued to stay in India.
Under the existing provisions of the Act (section 5 or section 6), those people belonging to the above-said religions and countries who entered India without valid travel documents or with expired documents are regarded as illegal migrants and they are ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
What are the previous initiatives of the Government?
The Centre, in 2015 and 2016 issued two notifications exempting some groups of illegal migrants from the above mentioned 1946 and the 1920 Acts. The groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who came to India on or before 31.12.2014.
This means that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents.
Later in 2016, the Central Government also made them eligible for long term visa to stay in India.
Is this the first time the amendment bill being introduced?
In 2016, a similar bill was introduced to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, which sought the extension of citizenship to the migrants of six religions of the three countries and to revise the provisions of OCI card holders. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019. But as the 16th Lok Sabha was dissolved, the bill lapsed.
What are the new amendments?
- The new bill is passed to provide Indian citizenship to the illegal migrants, who are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and are
- Parsis and
- The Bill seeks to amend the act to allow cancellation of OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) registration if the person has violated any provision of the act or any law in force in India. A provision is also to be added where the OCIs are given opportunity to be heard in courts before the cancellation.
- The Bill says that on acquiring citizenship:
- such persons shall be regarded as Indian citizens from the date of their entry into India, and
- all legal proceedings against them related to their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
- The bill also proposes to amend the 3rd Schedule to the Act, to make the applicants of the aforesaid religions and countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation if they can prove their residency in India for five years instead of the existing eleven years.
- The illegal migrants who have entered into India up to the cut of date of 31.12.2014 shall be granted the certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation and they may be given the citizenship of India from the date of their entry in India if they fulfil the conditions.
What are the exemptions?
The Bill adds that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to
- the tribal areas of Karbi Anglong (Assam), Garo Hills (Meghalaya), Chakma District (Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District and
- the areas under the Inner Line Regulation, whose permit regulates the visit of Indians to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Why is the bill opposed?
The prime opposition voice is that the act violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Many severe resistances and oppositions are seen against the bill as it is seen to show disparity to illegal migrants on the following grounds:
- Their country of origin: The Bill chooses to extend the citizenship only to non-Muslims from three nations with a Muslim majority The Bill classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is not clear why migrants from these countries are differentiated from migrants from other neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
- Religion: Instead of the term “persecuted minorities”, the bill lists the six religions which clearly excluded Muslims. Recently the people of Tamil Eelam and Rohingya Muslims are seen fleeing to India and taking refuge here. It fails to allow Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims to apply for citizenship, who also face persecution in Pakistan. It is not clear why illegal migrants belonging to religious minorities from these countries have been excluded from the Bill.
- Date of entry into India: It is also unclear why there is a differential treatment of migrants based on their date of entry into India and the cut off date of 31.12.2014 is being fixed.
- Place of residence in India: Though the Bill further seeks to protect the constitutional guarantee given to indigenous populations of North Eastern States covered under the Sixth Schedule, it excludes illegal migrants residing in those areas, which are the notified tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
- OCI cancellation: There is no clear regulation about the nature of the laws, which when violated lead to the cancellation of OCI registration.
Despite all these oppositions from various segments of the country, the government reiterates that there is no discrimination shown between the people. The subsequent implications may be visible only after the act is implemented across the country.