Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Parliament on Monday. In the 545-member Lok Sabha, where the BJP has 303 MPs, the bill is expected to sail through smoothly.
The bill, which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution, has been opposed by a number of political parties and triggered widespread protests in northeastern states.
The Congress has said it will “tooth and nail” oppose the bill in Parliament as it is against the country’s Constitution and its secular ethos,
Senior party leader Shashi Tharoor on Monday submitted a notice in the Lok Sabha to oppose the bill at the introduction stage. The Bill violates the Fundamental Right to Equality prescribed by Article 14 since it infringes upon the principle of “equality before law” and the “equal protection of laws” guaranteed to all persons, including non-citizens, Tharoor said in his notice.
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has said the party will move two amendments on the bill, seeking deletion of all those clauses which specify religion as the basis of giving citizenship.
Last week, BSP chief Mayawati had described the bill as “unconstitutional and divisive”, and demanded that it be sent to a parliamentary committee for review.
“Citizenship in the name of religion and discrimination in the name of religion of the citizens through it is totally against the basic structure of the humanitarian and secular Constitution of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar,” she had said.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said she would support the bill if citizenship is given to each and every refugee, irrespective of their religion.
“We could not take part in the first freedom struggle which gave us our Independence. But we will take part in the second freedom movement. We will resist NRC and CAB,” said Banerjee.
In an editorial in its mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ on Monday, the Shiv Sena questioned whether “selective acceptance” of Hindu illegal immigrants will act as a trigger for a religious war in the country and accused the Centre of doing an “invisible partition” of Hindus and Muslims over the bill. The Sena also opposed granting of any voting rights to illegal “intruders” even as it advocated citizenship for immigrant Hindus.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, an election promise of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was passed by the Lok Sabha during the last winter session of the Parliament. It lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha in May.
Protests in the northeast
A large section of people and organisations in the northeast oppose the Bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
The influential North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) has called an 11-hour bandh on December 10 in the region.
To assuage feelings of tribal groups in the Northeast, where many feel that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants will disturb the region’s demography, the government say it has made provisions under which the Bill will not be applicable in the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those tribal regions that are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
“In Citizenship Act, in Section 2 in sub-section (i), in clause (b) the following proviso shall be inserted namely:- “provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 and who has been exempted by the central government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act,” the Bill said.
Such refugees will be given Indian citizenship after they have resided in India for five years (six years in CAB 2016), instead of 11 years earlier, it said.
The indigenous people of the northeastern states fear that entry of these people will endanger their identity and livelihood.
The Bill also proposes to give immunity to such refugees facing legal cases after being found illegal migrants.
“On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.
“Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding pending against him and the central government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under section,” it said.
The Bill also states: “Provided further that the person who makes the application for citizenship under this section shall not be deprived of his rights and privileges to which he was entitled on the date of receipt of his application on the ground of making such application”.
According to the proposed legislation, the amendment will not be applicable to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and in the areas covered under The Inner Line, notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
The ILP regime is applicable in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The Bill also proposes to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.
However, the cancellation order shall not be passed unless the OCI card-holder has been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. This amendment was also proposed in 2016.