|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. What are the Key features of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019? It’s need and significance. Mention various issues.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Citizenship is the natural right of any citizen of a country. Citizens of a nation enjoy particular civil and political rights in a sovereign state. Recently, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to ease norms for religious minorities from neighbouring nations (non-muslims) to get Indian citizenship by amending age-old Citizenship Act, 1955. The amendment has been criticised for instilling fear among many that it will result in demographic change due to immigration.
Key features of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019:
- It proposes that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal immigrants even when they have entered India without valid documents.
- It seeks to include a separate column in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to these 6 communities from those 3 countries.
- They will not be deported as illegal immigrants under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946.
- The amendment reduces the period of residency from 12 years (as mentioned in the Citizenship Act, 1955) to 7 years, for acquiring permanent citizenship through naturalisation.
- It also empowers the government to withdraw registration as OCI due to any violation of the Citizenship Act or any other laws.
Need and significance of the Bill:
- Many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the six “minority communities” had been unsuccessfully applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955 but were unable to produce proof of their Indian origin. Hence, they were forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation which prescribes 12 years’ residency as qualification.
- The Bill stated that such a long-drawn process denies illegal immigrants from these six minority communities of the three foreign nations “many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently”.
- The amendment shortened the period of residency from 12 to seven years for gaining citizenship by naturalisation.
- The Bill had also empowered the government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India in case of any violation of the Citizenship Act or any other laws.
Issue related to the amendment bill:
- Violation of Right to Equality under article 14: Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners, differentiating between people on the grounds of religion would be in violation of the constitution. The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
- Violation of Assam Accord: Section 6A of the Citizenship Act relates to provisions for citizenship of people covered by the Assam Accord. The bill would undermine the rights of indigenous Assamese people and would be in violation of Clause 6 of Assam accord which ensures constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people
- Conflict with NRC: There is an apprehension that the Bill would be in conflict with the ongoing exercise to update the National Register of Citizens in Assam, for which the cut-off date is March 25th, 1971
- Vague procedure to cancel OCI registration: The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. But the offences covered under this have not been mentioned, hence, OCI can be cancelled for petty offences.
- Fails on the tenets of international refugee law: Although India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, granting refuge based on humanitarian considerations is arguably a norm of customary international law. The bill considers persecuted minorities as migrants whereas word migration refers to the voluntary movement of people, primarily for better economic prospects. Contrarily, refuge is an involuntary act of forced movement.
Alleged illegal migration from Bangladesh has been at the heart of Assam’s discontent. Not just the Muslim Bengali, but the Hindu Bengali has also been a reason for political mobilisation in the state. But only Hindu Bengalis are being favoured by the bill. While Hindus and Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians might be naturalised, Muslims will not be offered the same advantage even if they are persecuted.