The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9 and will be taken up for passage the next day, according to PTI sources. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill aims to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Specifically, it outlines refugees belonging to six religions — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
Its passage in the Lok Sabha is all but certain due to the massive majority the BJP and its allies have. The Union government is confident of its passage in the Rajya Sabha as well with the support of several non-aligned regional parties which have often joined the treasury benches in the past.
The Bill had also been proposed during the Modi government’s last term, but it lapsed in the Lok Sabha. The Bill that the Cabinet has now approved, which will soon be tabled, has additions.
What the Bill proposes
The Bill is to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, which states that individuals who want citizenship must have lived in the country for 12 months prior to their application and for 11 of the last 14 years. The present Bill seeks to reduce that time period to six years for non-Muslim applicants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
As per the Citizenship Act of 1955, illegal immigrants cannot get citizenship. These are people either who entered the country without the proper documents, or stayed on beyond the permitted time. In 2015, the government made changes to the passport and foreigner’s acts to allow non-Muslim refugees from these countries to stay back in India even if they entered the country without valid papers. This was challenged in the Supreme Court, where it is still pending.
Illegal migrants may be put in jail or deported under The Foreigners Act, 1946 and The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. However, recently, specific groups were exempted from this — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The clause? That they should have reached India on or before December 31, 2014. This meant that they couldn’t be jailed or deported, but now, these people can also apply for citizenship, provided they reached before December 31, 2014.
Under Section 6A of the original Act, which pertains to special provisions about citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord, which listed down measures that would be taken to deal with the issue of immigration in the state. Furthering this, the current Bill proposes that “any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.”
This is important in the context of the recently-concluded National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam, where 19 lakh people were excluded from the list for not being able to prove their citizenship. In effect, this could guarantee citizenship to the non-Muslim people who were not on the NRC.
Home Minister Amit Shah has also announced plans to expand the NRC exercise to the rest of the country and has set a deadline of 2024.
The Bill has also proposed a clause under the section that deals with the cancellation of registration as Overseas Citizens of India. It states that the OCI registration can be cancelled if the cardholder “has violated any of the provisions of this Act or provisions of any other law for time being in force as may be specified by the Central Government in the notification published in the Official Gazette”. However, it also proposes that before any such action, the person would have an opportunity to make their case.
A large section of people and organisations in the Northeast have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
The Bill has proposed to make provisions to protect tribal areas which are notified under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and border areas. Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, autonomous councils and districts were created in tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. The autonomous councils and districts enjoy certain executive and legislative powers.
“Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, and the area covered under the inner line notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier regulation, 1873,” the Bill states.
Part of Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, the Inner Line Permit system is prevalent in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Citizens of other states require Inner Line Permit (ILP) for visiting these three states.
One of the primary arguments against the Bill is that it is said to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution — the Right to Equality.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said it violates the basic idea of India that religion can never be a reason for citizenship.
Veteran Congress leader and three-time Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the party will move the Supreme Court against the CAB which is "unconstitutional" and "divisive".
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury demanded that the bill be withdrawn. "It is simple. Citizenship cannot be determined by or linked to religion. This is what makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) unacceptable and unconstitutional. The CAB is aimed at destroying the basis of India," he tweeted.
With PTI inputs