Important Excerpts from The Hindu articles (with inputs):
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Lok Sabha in January this year but lapsed as it was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha. It had proposed to amend the original Citizenship Act of 1955.
- The Bill had mandated that those who cross the border to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and belong to “minority communities”, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, would not be treated as illegal immigrants despite having entered the country without valid documents or with travel papers that had expired. They would not face deportation under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946.
- Reason for introduction of Bill – these minorities faced “discrimination and religious prosecution” and to provide relief to such migrants. 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 seeks to provide relief via granting citizenship to such minorities and seeks to save them from a long drawn process.
- What does the bill seek to change – The amendment shortened the period of residency from 12 to six 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.
- What are the associated issues – By distinguishing illegal immigrants on the basis of religion, the proposed law goes against constitutional guarantee of the fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. The protection of Article 14 applies equally to both citizens and foreigners. Discriminatory treatment and especially, discrimination that is arbitrary, and classifications that are unreasonable violate the essence of the equal treatment clause. Second, the Bill would hamper the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC), which defines all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion, on the basis of a cut-off date. The Citizenship Bill is also seen as a move to subvert the Assam Accord of 1985. The Accord deems any person who cannot prove his ancestry beyond March 24, 1971 as an alien. It does not differentiate on the ground of religion in this aspect.
- As the PRS Legislative Research website points out, if the objective is the protection of minorities, then there is no explanation for why Jews and atheists (to take just two examples) have been left out. Second — and more importantly — there are Muslim religious minorities within these countries who are subjected to grave and serious persecution: the classic example is that of the Ahmadis in Pakistan. And third, there is no explanation for why only these three countries have been singled out.