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Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 

Topics covered:

  1. Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

 

Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Key features of the Bill, Citizenship Act 1955, Citizenship- acquisition and types available.

For Mains: Issues over the Bill, why NE States oppose to this bill?

 

Context: With political positions on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) largely unchanged, the government, which is hoping to move a new version of it during the winter session of Parliament, faces tough negotiations.

 

The Citizenship Amendment Bill:

  1. It seeks to allow illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenshipby amending the Citizenship Act of 1955.
  2. It seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians —after 6 years of stay in India even if they do not possess any proper document. The current requirement is 12 years of stay.
  3. The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

The Bill, however, does not extend to illegal Muslim migrants. It also does not talk about other minority communities in the three neighbouring countries, such as Jews, Bahais etc.

 

However, the bill is being criticised for the following reasons:

  1. It violates the basic tenets of the Constitution. Illegal immigrants are distinguished on the basis of religion.
  2. It is perceived to be a demographic threat to indigenous communities.
  3. The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.
  4. It attempts to naturalise the citizenship of illegal immigrants in the region.
  5. The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences.

 

Need for Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016:

  1. There are thousands of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who have entered India after facing religious persecution in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan without any valid document.
  2. These refugees have been facing difficulty in getting Long Term Visa (LTV) or Citizenship.
  3. The existing Citizenship law does not allow anyone granting Indian nationality if he or she can not show proof of documents on country of birth and therefore they have to stay at least 12 years in India.
  4. Those Hindus who are persecuted due to religion has no other place to go except India.

 

Concerns, issues and consequences of these changes:

  • Introduced religion as a new principle into the citizenship law: By marking out Muslims as a residual category, it reiterates the narrative of partition, without incorporating the principles of inclusion which were present in both the constitution of India and the Citizenship Act of 1955 at its inception.
  • While religious persecution is a reasonable principle for differentiation, it cannot be articulated in a manner that dilutes the republican and secular foundations of citizenship in India, and goes against constitutional morality.

 

Special concerns of NE indigenous people:

  1. The Bill has not been sitting well with the Assamese as it contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported.
  2. Mizoram fears Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Hajongs from Bangladesh may take advantage of the Act.
  3. Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of migrants of Bengali stock.
  4. Groups in Arunachal Pradesh fear the new rules may benefit Chakmas and Tibetans.
  5. Manipur wants the Inner-line Permit System to stop outsiders from entering the state.

 

Sources: the Hindu.