Lok Sabha Passes Citizenship Amendment Bill [Read Bill]

Lok Sabha Passes Citizenship Amendment Bill [Read Bill]

Non-muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not treated as illegal migrants by the amendment, making them eligible for Indian citizenship

The Lok Sabha today passed the Citizenship(Amendment) Bill introduced in 2016, which makes it easy for illegal migrants belonging to specified minority communities in Paksitan, Bangladesh and Afghanisthan to acquire Indian citizenship.

As per the Bill, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Christians who migrate to India without travel documents from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will not be regarded as illegal migrants. This is proposed to be done by inserting a new proviso to Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act 1955.

The present present Citizenship Act does not recognize the claims of illegal migrants for citizenship.

The Bill also relaxes the condition for acquisition of citizenship by naturalization for these categories of persons. As per the existing law, a person should be a resident in India for the period of 12 months immediately preceding the date of application, and also should have been residing in India for 11 out of the 14 years preceding the said period of 12 months.

This period of 11 years is proposed to be relaxed as 6 years for non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, by inserting a proviso to clause (d) in Third Schedule of the Act.

The amendment is in tune with the notifications issued by the Central Government in 2015 and 2016, which had exempted migrants from these six religious groups from the said three countries from the application of Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. The exemption was available to migrants who came to India before December 31, 2014.

The Bill also amends the Act to allow cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India(OCI) registration if the person has violated any law.

The Bill was introduced on July 19, 2016. Later, a Joint Parliamentary Committee was constituted to review it. After holding 14 sittings and several field visits to get feedbacks about the Bill, the JPC tabled its report yesterday, endorsing it.

Speaking about it in the Lok Sabha today, Home Minister Ranath Singh said that the India has to offer shelter to those who flee from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan fearing religious persecution. The criticism that the amendment was perpetuating religious discrimination was denied by the Home Minister. Minorities from these countries have nowhere else to go, and India has to be considerate to their claims, the Home Minster added.

Mohammed Salim, member from CPI(M), opposed the Bill stating that it conflated the idea of nationality with religion. Asaduddin Owaisi, MP from AIMIM, said that citizenship cannot be granted on basis of religion.

Sougata Roy, MP from TMC, called it a "divisive bill" which will burn Assam. He said that the amendment should be secular in nature, granting citizenship to anyone coming to India fearing persecution in their home country.

In reply, the Home Minister said that India has been accommodating Muslim refugees from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are given long-term visas. He also clarified that the Bill was not specifically for Assam. The whole nation, and not just Assam alone, will shoulder the responsibility to implement the amendment. He quoted Jawaharlal Nehru and Suchetra Kripalini to show that it has been the avowed policy of India from the beginning itself to give special consideration to minority refugees from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries.

Congress had walked out from the debate.

The Bill has triggered off controversies, especially in the north east. The north-eastern states have been witnessing intense agitations against the Bill. Yesterday, Assam Gana Parishad(AGP), an ally of BJP in Assam, quit the alliance in protest over the Bill. The protesters argue that the Bill is against the provision of Assam accord, which was signed in 1985 against illegal migration from Bangladesh. The accord made provision for detection and deportation of illegal migrants who had entered Assam after March 24, 1971. The amendment will allow immigrants to get Indian citizenship even if they have entered Assam after the cut-off year. Assam groups apprehend that this will disturb the demographics of the society, and will also affect rights of indigenous communities.

According to protesters, the amendment goes against the ongoing process of updating the National Register of Citizens primarily based on the 1951 voters list.

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(Feature image sourced from here)