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Insights into Editorial: Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Bill amidst Opposition outcry

Insights into Editorial : Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Bill amidst Opposition outcry

Citizenship Amendment Bill

Context:

The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that seeks to give citizenship to refugees.

The purpose of this bill is to give Indian citizenship to illegal migrants of 6 communities (Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, and Parsi) belong to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Many political parties are opposing this bill because the Muslim community is not included in these 6 communities.

 

Brief Background:

The Citizen Amendment Bill was first placed in parliament in July 2016.

The legislation cleared parliament’s lower house, but it could not be enacted in the upper house, after violent anti-migrant protests in north eastern India.

The protests were particularly vocal in Assam state, which in August saw two million residents left off a citizens’ register. Illegal migration from Bangladesh has long been a concern in the state.

The CAB is seen as being linked to the register, although it is not the same thing.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh became an independent country.

 

What does the bill say?

The CAB amends the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law, which currently prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens.

It defines illegal immigrants as foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel documents, or stay beyond the permitted time. Illegal immigrants can be deported or jailed.

The new bill also amends a provision which says a person must have lived in India or worked for the federal government for at least 11 years before they can apply for citizenship.

 

Eligibility for Citizenship:

Central government says these minority groups have come escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations.

  • It applies to the people who were forced to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion.
  • The cut-off date was December 31, 2014, which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date.
  • Indian citizenship, under present law, is given either to those born in India or if they have resided in the country for a minimum of 11 years.
  • The Bill also proposes for the 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.

However, the logic is not consistent the bill does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all neighbours.

The problem is that the CAB wholly violates the fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution as it discriminates on the basis of religion, singling out certain religious denominations for inclusion while keeping out refugees belonging to the Muslim community.

 

Why this bill is opposed?

Basically, this bill is opposed because it does not give citizenship to illegal migrants of Muslim community from these 3 countries.

Another reason behind its criticism is that it violates the provisions of article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

So, these were some provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which gives Indian citizenship to illegal migrants of 3 countries.

However, some people are arguing that this amendment is a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution as it opposes discrimination with anyone based only on caste, religion, sex, and place, etc.

They will only have to live or work in India for six years to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation, the process by which a non-citizen acquires the citizenship or nationality of that country.

It also says people holding Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards – an immigration status permitting a foreign citizen of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely – can lose their status if they violate local laws for major and minor offences and violations.

 

Which areas are exempted from CAB?

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, described in Articles 244(2) and 275(1), relates to special provisions in administration of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram and provides special powers for Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in these states.

ADCs have powers to enact laws in areas under their jurisdiction on a variety of subjects, with the objective of ensuring development of tribal areas and boosting self-governance by tribal communities.

Mizoram is covered under the ILP regime in any case. Among the other three states that have areas protected under the Sixth Schedule, tribal-majority Meghalaya has three ADCs that cover practically the entire state, except for a small part of Shillong city.

Assam has three ADCs and Tripura one, all with Sixth Schedule powers.

 

Conclusion:

Union Home Minister said it was a “historic Bill” that sought to complete what the “Nehru-Liaqat pact could not do.”

Taken together, the NRC and CAB have the “potential of transforming India into a majoritarian polity with gradations of citizenship rights”.

Hopefully, the government will take the right decision after listening to all sections of the country.