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THE CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT BILL & THE OPPOSITION’S OBJECTION

INTRODUCTION:

The bill aims to permit non-Muslim “persecuted minorities” from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians to register for Indian citizenship within 7 years of entering India rather than this 12 years. Earlier, the NDA government passed two notifications exempting such immigrants from the “Foreigners Act 1946” and therefore the “Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920”, enabling them to continue living in India if that they had arrived prior to December 31, 2014.

A 16-member Joint Parliamentary Committee visited Assam and Meghalaya in May 2018 to accumulate public feedback on the bill. While a majority of the representations from Brahmaputra Valley opposed the Bill, the Bengali-majority Barak Valley favoured the bill. Out of the memorandums submitted by 135 groups in Guwahati opposing the bill, one was signed in blood. The Meghalaya government, during which the BJP is an ally, also opposed the bill.

Migrants from these communities were earlier given protection against lawful action in years 2015 & 2016. Long Term visa provision for future was made for them. The proposed amendment will make these persecuted migrants eligible to register for citizenship. Citizenship will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and therefore the State Government. The minimum residency period for citizenship is being reduced from existing 12 years under this law to 7 years.

The present Government has taken several measures to implement the Assam Accord. A crucial pillar of “Assam Accord is Clause 6” handling with constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for safeguarding of cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people. Ministry of Housing Affairs has notified on 05-01-2019, a High Level Committee consisting of eminent and knowledgeable persons from Assamese society with a really wide mandate to suggest such measures for safeguarding of the Assamese identity, including reservation within the State Assembly and in jobs. The Committee will submit its report within 6 months.

KEY HIGLIGHTS OF THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) BILL:

The Act isn’t confined to the State of Assam, and can be applicable to all or any States and Union Territories of the country.
The beneficiaries of Citizenship Amendment Bill can reside in any state of the country.

The burden of those persecuted migrants are going to be shared by the entire country.

Assam alone wouldn’t need to bear the whole burden and Government of India is committed to offer all help to the State Government and other people of Assam.

The Act will provide relief to persecuted migrants who have come through western borders of the country to States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and other States.

Under the 1955 Act, one among the wants for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months and for 11 of the previous 14 years.

The bill relaxes this 12-year requirement to seven years for persons belonging to the all the six religions from the three countries.
While moving the bill, Singh said that the central government is committed for National Register of Citizens (NRC).

He asserted that there’ll be no discrimination in NRC. He also said that the Central Government has taken several measures to implement the Assam Accord.

The Leader of the Opposition within the house, Mallikarjun Kharge demanded that the bill should be sent to the Select Committee of the House.

The bill was passed within the lower house of the parliament amidst a walkout by number of the opposition members including those of Congress and Trinamool Congress.

NEED OF THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2019:

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 aims to impart citizenship to those that had been forced to look for shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries. They’re primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is often a drastic change from the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1955 that label an individual an “illegal immigrant” if he or she has entered India without travel documents or has overstayed the date mentioned in the documents.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS OF THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) BILL:

1. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to form illegal migrants from communities like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India before December 31, eligible for Indian citizenship.

2. Under the Act, one among the wants for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Bill relaxes this 12-year requirement to seven years for persons belonging to an equivalent six religions and three countries.

3. The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders could also be cancelled if they violate any law.

IS THE BILL CONTROVERSIAL?

The citizenship amendment bill, which has gone by the Lok Sabha, has led to political backlash in Assam and caused unrest within the remainder of the North-east, with protests by ethnic Assamese groups. Assamese organizations say that as a results of the bill the burden of illegal migrants are going to be passed on to the state alone. The bill drew flak from opposition parties within the Rajya Sabha for excluding Muslims from countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka. These parties are likely to push for the citizenship amendment bill to be mentioned to a select committee before it’s discussed within the Rajya Sabha.

THE SAY OF OPPOSITION:

The opposition has been opposing the bill’s passing, because it would grant citizenship to the illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came to Assam after March 1971, violating the “Assam Accord, 1985”.

Further, the Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the perspective of religion. It provides citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

However, it excludes Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas, who face persecution in Pakistan. This might violate “Article 14 of the Constitution” which guarantees right to equality.

It also allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is often a good ground which will cover a variety of violations, including minor offences like parking in a no parking lot.

THE SAY OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT:

The centre says the amendment is for migrants who came through the eastern and western borders and are staying in India. The burden are going to be shared by the whole country, with the centre willing to assist to implement it.

IS THE AMENDMNET BILL AN ELECTORAL SOP?

The Trinamool Congress accused the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of being “anti-Bengali” after the ultimate draft NRC was published in July 2018. To counter the allegation, BJP has decided to mention the bill in its Lok Sabha poll campaign in West Bengal to garner support from Hindu refugees, who came to the state from Bangladesh. The centre is additionally trying to woo the ethnic Assamese by promising to seem into the Assam Accord of 1985 to make sure that their linguistic and cultural identity are going to be safeguarded.

NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS (NRC):

NRC was updated under the Citizenship Act to wean out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries. The collective list of the NRC data of 1951 and therefore the electoral rolls till 24 March 1971 is being analysed to update NRC. The amendment paves the way for non-Muslim minorities who came to Assam from Bangladesh between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1974 to urge citizenship. This negates the NRC exercise, say ethnic Assamese groups and regional parties.

WHY ASSAM OPPOSES THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) BILL?

The bill is being opposed by majority groups in Assam, as all of them believe that if the Bill becomes an Act, it’ll nullify the updated National Registration of Citizenship (NRC) of Assam. The method of updating the NRC is currently underway in Assam. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a record that contains names of Indian citizens of Assam. It had been last prepared after Census in 1951.Assam, which had faced an influx of persons from Bangladesh since the initial 20th century, is that the only state having an NRC.

The Assam government on July 30, 2018 released the second and final draft of the state’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). The draft includes the names of Indian citizens who are residing in Assam before March 25, 1971.

As per the Draft, the entire number of persons included within the list is 2,89,83,677 leaving a complete of 40,70,707 as ineligible for inclusion. Out of 40,70,707 names, 37,59,630 names are rejected and 2,48,077 names are kept on hold.

The NRC doesn’t distinguish migrants on the perspective of religion. It involves the deportation of all those that entered the state illegally post March 24, 1971, regardless of their religion.

References:
1. The Foreigners Act 1946, The Legislative Department https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1946-31.pdf .
2. The Passport (Entry to India) Act 1920 , IndiaCode https://www.indiacode.nic.in/handle/123456789/2370?view_type=browse&sam_handle=123456789/1362.
3. Constitutional, Legislative & Administrative Safeguards, Assam Accord 1985, Government of Assam https://assamaccord.assam.gov.in/portlets/assam-accord-and-its-clauses
4. Assam Accord 1985, Government of Assam https://assamaccord.assam.gov.in/portlets/assam-accord-and-its-clauses
Equality Before Law, Constitution of India 1950,
5.https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/fundamental_rights/articles/Article%2014

About the Author:-

This Article has been written by Aryan Sinha, 5th Year law (BBA+LLB(H) student at Galgotias University, Greater Noida.

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