Parliament Passes Citizenship Amendment Bill

After a stormy debate which lasted over eight hours, the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, which seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955.
The Lok Sabha had cleared the Bill on Monday.

The Bill seeks to relax conditions for acquiring citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

As per the Bill, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians who migrated to India without travel documents from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014 will not be regarded as illegal migrants. This is proposed to be done by inserting a new proviso to Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act 1955. The present Citizenship Act does not recognize the claims of illegal migrants for citizenship.

The Bill also proposes to relax the condition for acquisition of citizenship by naturalization for non-Muslim migrants from these countries. As per the existing law, a person should be a resident in India for the period of 12 months immediately preceding the date of application, and also should have been residing in India for 11 out of the 14 years preceding the said period of 12 months.

This Bill proposes to make non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan eligible for citizenship by naturalization if they can establish their residency in India for five years instead of existing eleven years.

This is proposed citing the reason that religious minorities in these countries have been fleeing to India due to fear of persecution.

"The Constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day to day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion have been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents", the "Statement of Objects and Reasons" of the Bill said.

Parts of North Eastern Regions excluded

A significant feature of the Bill is that the relaxations for citizenship by naturalization will not be applicable to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the area covered under "The Inner Line" notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873.

This exclusion is given apparently in view of the protests from North-Eastern states against the previous Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was cleared by the 16th Lok Sabha in January 2019. That bill had triggered violent protests in North-Eastern states on the ground that it will legitimize the stay of several illegal migrants, disturbing the local demographics.

Rajya Sabha discussion
In his introductory remarks, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the Bill was based on a promise made by BJP in its election manifesto. Since the people have given BJP the majority, the Bill has got democratic support. The Minister reiterated that Muslims who are Indian citizens have nothing to worry about the Bill.
In his reply speech, Shah said that if the original period of 11 years is applied for naturalization, these categories of persons will have to wait till 2025. So the period has been reduced to 5 years for naturalization, Shah added.
As the reason for exclusion of Rohingyas, Shah said that they do not come directly to India and that they go to Bangladesh and from there illegally infiltrate to India.
The bill is for addressing the special problem of minorities in Islamic states bordering India, and hence Sri Lankan Tamils are not brought under it, Shah said.
Opposing the Bill, Congress MP Anand Sharma said that the Bill was an assault on the very foundation of the Constitution of India.
"It hurts the soul of India. Its divisive, discriminatory. Its against the very preamble of the Constitution which speaks of equality and secularism".