Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 and Disputes

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha amid protests taking place across the country. Be aware that the Citizenship Act, 1955 will be amended through the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The bill proposes to grant Indian citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is important to note that earlier in the year 2016 also the Central Government introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill before the House, although despite the passage from Lok Sabha, the Government did not present it in Rajya Sabha due to heavy protests. There is a lot of protest in many parts of the country, especially in the northeastern states. The protesters say that India is a secular state and defining the citizenship of the country on religious grounds is a violation of the provisions of the Indian Constitution.

What does the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 say?

  • The bill provides that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014 will not be considered illegal migrants.
  • The Citizenship Act, 1955 prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. Under this Act, an illegal migrant is defined as a person: (1) who has entered India without a valid passport or travel documents, or (2) who has lived in India for longer than his prescribed time limit lives.
  • It may be noted that to provide the above benefits to religious minorities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, they will also have to provide exemption under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passports (Entry into India) Act, 1920, because the year 1920 Act provides foreigners It is obliged to keep passports with them, while the Act of 1946 governs the entry and departure of foreigners in India.
  • The Act of 1955 allows a person fulfilling certain conditions (other than illegal migrants) to apply for citizenship. According to the Act, for this, among other things, they have to fulfill the condition of staying in India till 12 months before the date of application and spending 11 years out of 14 years in India before 12 months.
  • It is noteworthy that the recent amendment bill passed by Lok Sabha provides for reducing the 11-year condition to 5 years for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • As per the Bill, such persons will be treated as citizens of India from the date of their entry into India on obtaining citizenship and all legal proceedings against them in respect of illegal migration or citizenship will be discontinued.
  • The above provisions regarding citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
citizenship amendment
  • Apart from this, these provisions will also not apply to the ‘inner line’ areas notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873. It may be noted that Indian visits to these areas are regulated through ‘Inner Line Permits’.
  • Currently, this permit system is in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
  • As per the Citizenship Act, 1955, the central government can cancel the registration of any OCI cardholder on the following grounds:
  • If a fraud occurs in OCI registration.
  • If the OCI cardholder is sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more within five years of registration.
  • If doing so is necessary for India’s sovereignty and security.
  • The proposed bill talks of adding another basis for cancellation of the registration of OCI cardholder, under which even if the OCI cardholder violates the provisions of the Act or any other law notified by the central government, the center still has that OCI cardholder Shall have the right to cancel the registration of.

Major differences between 2016 Bill and 2019 Bill

  • Provisions like termination of life as a citizen of India from the date of entry and closure of all legal proceedings against them in connection with illegal migration are new in the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2019, whereas it was not in the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016. Also, the point of exception for the areas included in the Sixth Schedule is also new in the 2019 Bill.
  • The Bill of 2016 provided for reducing the 11-year condition to 6 years for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, while in the recent bill it was further reduced (5 Year).

Bill related dispute

  • Those opposing the bill say that this bill is against a particular religion and violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Critics of the bill say that in a secular country like India, no one can be discriminated against on the basis of religion.
  • Be aware that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equality to all persons before the law, that is, all are equal before the law. This law applies to both Indian citizens and foreigners alike.
  • Experts believe that the bill seeks to ensure religious discrimination in the law by dividing illegal migrants into Muslim and non-Muslim, which is against long-standing secular constitutional policy.
  • There is a lot of opposition in the northeastern states, mainly in Assam, over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, as they see this bill as a step to withdraw from the Assam Accord of 1985.
  • Apart from Assam, there is a lot of opposition in many other states of the Northeast too, because the citizens there fear the demographic change due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
  • Also, the new basis for cancellation of registration of OCI cardholder extends the scope of the discretion of the central government. Because violation of law includes serious crime like murder along with minor violation of traffic rules.

Government’s stand on the bill

  • The government says that these migrants have suffered considerable ‘discrimination and religious persecution’ in their respective countries. The proposed amendment will provide relief to the oppressed people from the western borders of the country coming to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and other states.
  • Many people of Indian origin, including these six minority communities, fail to obtain citizenship under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and are unable to provide evidence in support of Indian origin. That is why they have to apply to get citizenship by naturalization, which is a relatively long process.
amendment bill

Assam Accord dispute

  • In 1971, when the violent action of the Pakistani army started against East Pakistan (present Bangladesh), about one million people took refuge in Assam. Although most of them returned after the formation of Bangladesh, a large number of Bangladeshi began to live illegally in Assam.
  • Even after 1971, when Bangladeshi continued to come to Assam illegally, this population change created a feeling of linguistic, cultural and political insecurity among the original inhabitants of Assam and a movement started around 1978.
  • After the long agitation against infiltrators in Assam since 1978 and the horrific violence of 1983, the process of negotiation for settlement started.
  • This resulted in an agreement between the central government and the agitators known as the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985.
  • According to the Assam Accord, all Bangladeshi citizens who came to Assam after March 25, 1971, will have to leave from here, whether they are Hindus or Muslims. As such, the agreement does not discriminate between illegal immigrants on religious grounds.
  • Under this agreement, it was decided to give full citizenship and voting rights to all the people who came to Assam between 1951 and 1961. Also, citizens of Assam were given citizenship and other rights from 1961 to 1971, but they were not given the right to vote.
  • A major reason for opposition to this bill in Assam is that the recent Civil Amendment Bill violates the Assam Accord, as it will provide Indian citizenship to those who have come to India before 1971 and 2014.

Religion based definition – violation of Article 14?

  • According to the Bill, illegal migrants who belong to designated minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants. These minority communities include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. This means that illegal migrants coming from these countries who are not related to these 6 religions are not eligible for citizenship.
  • Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equality to all Indian and foreign nationals. This Act allows to distinguish between two groups only when it is done for a just and logical purpose.
  • In such a situation, it is natural to raise the question whether this provision violates the right to equality provided under Article of the Constitution, because it refers to (1) their country of origin (2) religion (3) the date of entry into India among illegal migrants and (4) discriminates on the basis of place of residence etc. in India.
  • The rationale behind the inclusion of Bangladesh and Pakistan in the Bill is that many Indians lived in these areas before partition, but no logical explanation is given behind the inclusion of Afghanistan.
illegal migrants
  • The government is repeatedly reiterating that the sole purpose of this bill is to grant Indian citizenship to the oppressed minorities on religious grounds, but if this is the case then why does the bill not mention Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other neighboring countries besides Pakistan? .
  • The fact that Sri Lankan minorities such as Tamil Eelam have a long history of persecution cannot be ignored. At the same time, India should not forget the atrocities with the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
  • Experts say that the purpose of including only 6 religions in the bill is also largely unclear, as reports of persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are considered to be non-Muslims in Pakistan, have also come to light in the last few years. She has been
  • The motive behind electing the date of 31 December 2014 is also unclear.

NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill

  • The NRC or National Civil Register is a register that contains the details of all Indian citizens. It was prepared after the census of 1951. The register contained details of all persons enumerated during that census.
  • Significantly, Assam was the first state where the NRC was updated after 1951. The update was completed on 31 August of the same year and the final list was released.
  • The names of 19,06,657 people were not included in the final list of NRC, it should be noted that the list of those who were out of NRC included both Hindus and Muslims.
  • A dispute related to the NRC in the Citizenship Amendment Bill is also that with its introduction, non-Muslims of Assam will get another opportunity to get citizenship, while foreign laws will be imposed on the Muslims there by declaring them as illegal migrants. Experts believe that this will affect the implementation of NRC.

International response

  • There is also a lot of discussion at the international level about the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom-USCIRF has expressed concern over the passage of this bill in the Lok Sabha.
  • The USCIRF said in its statement that if the bill is passed by the Indian Parliament, it may consider banning several other prominent leaders, including the Indian Home Minister.
  • In this context, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs says that the statement given by the Commission is neither correct nor desired. According to the ministry, USCIRF is making its own assumptions based on its prejudices.

Road ahead

Discriminating between people only on the basis of religion is clearly against the principles of secularism. It is necessary that this bill should be left to stand the test of ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’.
The Basic Structure Principle is an Indian judicial principle according to which some basic features present in the Constitution of India cannot be changed or abolished through amendments by the Parliament.
The bill should further clarify the new provisions regarding cancellation of registration of OCI cardholder.

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