Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Introduced: Lok Sabha (9th Dec 2019)

Passed: Lok Sabha (9th Dec 2019)

Passed: Rajya Sabha (11th Dec 2019)

Present status: Received assent on 12th Dec 2019 and converted to Act

Ministry: Home Affairs

Key provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  1. The bill seeks to amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.

Note: The Citizenship Act, 1955 prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship.

  1. It seeks to reduce the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be lessened from 12 years to 7 years for such migrants.
  2. The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.
  3. The Bill will apply to all States and Union Territories of the country.

Note: OCIs are persons who are given a lifetime visa status.

Issues and Challenges:

  1. Violation of Right to Equality:
    • The bill violates the Right to Equality (Article 14) as it seeks to grant citizenships to illegal migrants on the basis of religion.
    • It fails the test of reasonability contained in Article 14. This is because it does not provide any concrete reasons for limiting eligibility of citizenship to 6 minorities of only 3 countries
    • For example: Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Uighur Muslims from China who face religious persecution have been overlooked.
  2. Against the Basic Structure of the Constitution: Critics argue that the bill undermines secularism and is thus against the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Secularism as a basic structure has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in S R Bommai vs. Union of India (1994)
  3. Violation of Assam Accord:
    • Section 6A of the Citizenship Act relates to provisions for citizenship of people covered by the Assam Accord. The Act fixes March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. However, the Bill makes December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date.
    • Critics argue that 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Concerns over Insurgency: The North Eastern states have vehemently opposed the bill over the concerns that citizenship to illegal migrants would pose a threat to their cultural and linguistic identity and put a strain on resources and economic opportunities. There have already been widespread protests in NE states which further arise concerns over insurgency.
    • Views of NE states:
      • All NE states (Tripura partially) have been opposing the bill.
      • Mizoram is concerned that Buddhist Chakmas from Bangladesh may take advantage of the law
      • Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of influx of Bengali migrants
      • Arunachal Pradesh fears that the law would favour and benefit the Chakma, Hajongs and the Tibetans
  8. Violation of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): The bill particularly violates Clause 1 of the Declaration which states that indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture

What is citizenship?

Citizenship is the legal right to belong to a particular country. In other words, citizenship bestows upon individuals membership in a national political community. Citizens enjoy civil and political rights in a sovereign state.

Citizenship within the Indian Constitution:

The Constitution of India provided for Citizenship to Indians under Article 5 to 11

  1. Article 5:provides for citizenship by domicile.
  2. Article 6:grants citizenship to persons who migrated from Pakistan to the present India before the commencement of the Constitution of India
  3. Article 7:confers citizenship on those persons who migrated to Pakistan after announcement of Independence but later returned back to India
  4. Article 8:provides for citizenship to those persons whose parentsor grandparents were born in India, but are resident of abroad
  5. Article 9: provides that any person who acquired the citizenship of any other country will not be entitled to the citizenship of India.
  6. Article 10:states that all citizens shall continue to be citizens of India
  7. Article 11: confers power on the Parliament to make rules regarding citizenship

Citizenship Act, 1955:

  • By virtue of Article 11 of the Constitution the Parliament enacted the Citizenship Act, 1955
  • The Act provides for acquisition and loss of citizenship after the commencement of the constitution.

The Act mentions ways in which a person may be Indian citizen –

  1. Citizenship by birth: A person born in India on or after 3rd December, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if both the parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth.
  2. Citizenship by Descent: Till 1992, a person whose is born outside India and had an Indian father, was eligible for citizenship by descent. However, December 2004 onwards, a person is considered an Indian citizen if his/her birth is registered within one year
  3. Citizenship by Registration: Subject to certain conditions and restrictions, the a person of Indian origin or a woman married to Indian citizen can be registered as Indian citizen
  4. Citizenship by Naturalization: Citizenship of India by naturalization can be acquired by a foreigner who have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years and satisfies other qualifications as specified in Third Schedule of the Act.
  5. Citizenship by acquiring territory:If a new territory becomes a part of India, the government of India specifies the persons of that territory who shall be citizens of India

Who are illegal migrants?

  • According to Citizenship Act 1955, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa, or enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period
  • Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.

Conclusion/ Way Forward:

The Bill should be seen in a positive light as it seeks to address the plight of persecuted minorities who had no other option aside from coming to India illegally. However, the government must look to accommodate the Ahmadiyyas, Uyghurs and Rohingyas who are persecuted minorities and have approached India to seek refuge in time of need. Further, the government should also formulate policies and take appropriate measures to provide education, employment and a decent living to the concerned migrants. The government should take necessary steps to assure that the rights ad socio-cultural identity of indigenous people is not affected.

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