Citizenship Amendment Act
Citizenship Amendment Act
Citizenship Amendment Act
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 passed by both houses and now it has become Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 after clearance of the President of India. This Bill was introduced on 9 December 2019 by the Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha and was passed on 10 December 2019. The Rajya Sabha also passed the bill on 11th December. The Citizenship Act seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation.
- 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 naturalization (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India.
- However, illegal migrants cannot become Indian citizens. Under the Act, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who:
- Enters the country without valid travel documents like a passport and visa, or enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period.
- Illegal migrants may be put in jail or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
- However, in 2015 and 2016, the government exempted specified groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1946 and 1920 Acts. They were Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who reached India on or before December 31, 2014.
- This meant that these particular categories of illegal migrants would not be deported or jailed for being in India without valid documents.
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Parliament to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955, so that these people could be made eligible for citizenship of India.
What is Citizenship?
- Citizenship defines the relationship between the nation and the people who constitute the nation.
- It confers upon an individual certain rights such as protection by the state, right to vote and right to hold certain public offices, among others, in return for the fulfilment of certain duties/obligations owed by the individual to the state.
Key Features of Citizenship Amendment Act
- The Act applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. It aims to protect such people from proceedings of illegal migration.
- The amendment relaxes the requirement of naturalization from 11 years to 5 years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to these six religions.
- The cut-off date for citizenship is December 31, 2014, which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date.
- In this bill Non – Muslim Communities like, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian are excluded.
- Bill says that on acquiring citizenship such persons shall be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and all legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
- The Bill also proposes to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.
Exception of the Act
- The exception of the Act is that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
- These tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram) and Tripura Tribal Areas District.
- The areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will also be outside the Act’s purview. This keeps almost entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act.
- The Inner Line Permit regulates the visit of Indians to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
What is the controversy around the Act?
- The fundamental criticism of the Bill has been that it specifically targets Muslims. Critics argue that it is violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
- India has several other refugees that include Tamils from Sri Lanka and Hindu Rohingya from Myanmar. They are not covered under the Act.
- Critics have said the Bill is unconstitutional as it blatantly discriminates on the basis on religion. Some critics have also said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is not in line with the secular credentials on which the country was formed.
- The government, however, maintains that the Bill aims to grant citizenship to minorities who have faced religious persecution in Muslim-majority foreign countries.
- In the Northeastern states, the prospect of citizenship for massive numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has triggered deep anxieties, including fears of demographic change, loss of livelihood opportunities, and erosion of the indigenous culture.
Arguments in favour of the Act
- The government has clarified that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Islamic country where Muslims are in majority hence they cannot be treated as persecuted minorities.
- This Act will come as a big boon to all those people who have been the victims of Partition and the subsequent conversion of the three countries into theocratic Islamic republics.
- The government has argued that millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947.
- The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries.
- Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.
Government, through parliament has powers to make laws regarding citizenship for the country. The opposition and other political parties allege this Act that the Government violates some of the basic features of the constitution like secularism and equality. The Act may reach the doors of the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court will be the final interpreter of the Act. If it violates the constitutional features and goes ultra-wires it will be struck down, if it is not we will have a new law.