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Need for Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

Need for Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

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  • GS 2 || Polity|| Constitutional Framework || Citizenship

Why In News?

  • The LokSabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Citizenship Act Of 1995

  • The Act mentions ways in which a person may be an Indian citizen
    • Citizenship by birth:A person born in India on or after 3rd December, 2004 is considered a 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.
    • 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
    • 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 an Indian citizen
    • 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 the Third Schedule of the Act.
    • 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 cannot be considered as Citizen of India?

  • Under Article 9
    • If any person takes citizenship of any other country, he cannot get citizenship of India.
  • Unless their birth is registered
    • A person born after Dec 3 , 2004 has to register himself/herself .
  • Section 8 of the Citizenship Act 1955
    • If he /she himself/herself declares that he don’t want citizenship of India.

Recent ProposalCitizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  • The bill seeks to amend 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.
  • 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.
  • The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.
  • The Bill will apply to all States and Union Territories of the country.

What Is The Need For The Amendment?

  • Many persons of Indian origin have been applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955, but are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin.[These include persons belonging to the six “minority communities” from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.]
  • Hence, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalization, which prescribes 12 year residency as a qualification.
  • Such a long-drawn process denies them the opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India.
  • Nevertheless, they are likely to stay in India permanently. So it calls for some kind of a legislative safeguards to them.

Implementation

  • The bill has stirred protests in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam, which has a predominantly Assamese speaking
  • But on the contrary, the Bengali speaking region of Barak Valley in Assam has largely welcomed the proposal.
  • Notably, Barak Valley is a breakaway Bengali speaking region from the erstwhile East-Bengal, which became East-Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1947.
  • Though the region was joined with Assam for administrative convenience, it has retained its Hindu-Bengali identity over the years.
  • A parliamentary committee was sent to Guwahati (Brahmaputra Valley), Silchar (Barak Valley) and Shillong (Meghalaya) to seek public opinion.
  • The bill received acceptance only in Silchar, and it met with stringent opposition from Gawhati (Meghalaya’s cabinet also opposed it).

Arguments in support

  • Supporters of the amendments argue that it is to save the victims of Partition (Hindu-Bengalis), who got stuck in east-Pakistan in the initial years.
  • Notably, religious minorities in Bangladesh are indeed being persecuted by non-state actors (Islamic extremists) and are said to be in desperation.
  • Subsequently, many have crossed the borders and settled down in border states illegally, and they remain stateless for years now.
  • The supporters of the amendment bill have also asked for further reduction in the time period for citizenship., 2016.

Arguments against

  • Opponents vouch that the bill will aggravate the illegal migration, from Bangladesh, which might alter the demography of the state.
  • The bill is also in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord, which was signed to end illegal Bangladeshi migration (irrespective of religion).
  • Under the Accord, any person who came into Assam after midnight of March 24th, 1971 (just before the Bangladeshi war), would be identified as a foreigner.

Way Forward

  • The Bill, if passed as law, would be challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds of Article 14 and as a move to disturb the NRC process.
  • All Opposition parties, have opposed the idea of granting citizenship to an individual on the basis of religion.
  • It is also argued that the Bill, if made into an Act, will nullify the updated National Registration of Citizenship (NRC).
  • Instead of simply saying that members belonging to particular religion will be eligible for differential treatment, the bill should have laid down some general secular criteria (persecution history, history of migration, etc.) which could, in principle, at least, be applied to all groups.
  • But the direct exclusion of Muslims from being eligible for this pathway under any circumstances makes the constitutional form and citizenship communal.

Additional info- National Register of Citizens

  • Assam, which faced an influx from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC.
  • It was prepared in 1951, following the census of 1951.
  • It is being updated to weed out illegal immigration from Bangladesh and neighbouring regions.
  • Then, it had recorded 80 Lakh citizens in the State. Since then, the process of identification of illegal immigrants in Assam has been debated and become a contentious issue in the State’s politics.
  • A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the removal of “illegal voters” from the electoral rolls of Assam and the preparation of the NRC as required under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and its rules.
  • A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’’ Union (AASU) in 1979.
  • It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985.
  • Post the Assam agitation against ‘foreigners’, and the subsequent Assam Accord signed in 1985 between the government of India and the All Assam Students Union, the Citizenship Act, 1955, was amended.
  • All Indian-origin people, including from Bangladesh who entered Assam before January 1, 1966,were deemed as citizens.
  • Those who came between January 1, 1966 and March 25 1971 could get citizenship after registering themselves and living for 10 years.
  • Those who entered after March 25, 1971 were to be deported.

Mains Questions

  • What are the objectives of the recently introduced Bill to amend certain provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955.