CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT
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CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT

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CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT

Why in News?

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 was recently enacted by the Parliament that seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. 

 

The Citizenship Act,1955 provides various ways in which citizenship may be acquired. It provides for citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalization, and incorporation of the territory into India.

Citizenship in India:

The Constitution of India provides for single citizenship for the whole of India.

Under Article 11 of the Indian Constitution, Parliament has the power to regulate the right of citizenship by law. Accordingly, the parliament had passed the Citizenship act of 1955 to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian Citizenship.

Entry 17, List 1 under the Seventh Schedule speaks about Citizenship, naturalization, and aliens. Thus, Parliament has exclusive power to legislate concerning citizenship.

Until 1987, to be eligible for Indian citizenship, it was sufficient for a person to be born in India.

Then, spurred by the populist movements alleging massive illegal migrations from Bangladesh, citizenship laws were first amended to additionally require that at least one parent should be Indian.

In 2004, the law was further amended to prescribe that not just one parent be Indian; but the other should not be an illegal immigrant.

Who is an illegal migrant in India?

Section 2(1)(b) of Citizenship Act, 1955 defines an illegal migrant as a foreigner who:

enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa or

enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period. 

Considering the plight of minorities in the countries, some concessions have been given in recent times, such as:

Foreigners Act, 1946 (regulates the entry and departure of foreigners in India) and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 (mandates foreigners to carry passport) empower the central government to imprison or deport illegal Migrants.

Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 provided that  ‘illegal migrants’ will not be eligible to apply for citizenship by either registration or naturalization.

? In 2015 and 2016, two notifications were issued by the Central government exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1946 and the 1920 Acts. These groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. This implies that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents.

A Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2016 but the bill got lapsed.

Key provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019:  

The amendment provides that illegal migrants who fulfill four conditions will not be treated as illegal migrants under the Act. The conditions are:

they are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, or Christians

they are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan

they entered India on or before December 31, 2014

they are not in certain tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, or areas under the “Inner Line” permit, i.e., Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.

? These tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District.

All legal proceedings against the above category of migrants concerning their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.

The period of naturalization has been reduced from 11 years to 5 years for the above category of migrants. 

The 1955 Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalization if the person meets certain qualifications. One of the qualifications is that the person must have resided in India or been in central government service for the last 12 months and at least 11 years of the preceding 14 years.

Grounds for canceling OCI registration: The amendment provides that the central government may cancel the registration of OCIs if the OCI has violated the Citizenship Act or any other law so notified by the central government. Also, the cardholder has to be allowed to be heard.

The Act provides that the central government may cancel the registration of OCIs on five grounds including registration through fraud, showing disaffection to the Constitution, engaging with the enemy during the war, a necessity in the interest of sovereignty of India, the security of the state or the public interest, or if within five years of registration the OCI has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more.

Arguments in favor of the Amendment Act:

Religious persecution- Nehru-Liaquat pact, also known as the Delhi Pact, signed in 1950, sought to provide certain safeguards and rights to religious minorities like the unrecognition of forced conversions and returning of abducted women and looted property, etc.

However, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have a state religion with discriminatory blasphemy laws, religious violence, and forced conversions which have resulted in religious persecution of minority groups.

For instance, in 1951, the Non-Muslim minority population 23.20% in Bangladesh which is around 9.6% in 2011.

Illegal immigration from neighboring countries has been a contentious issue for decades. E.g. During the 6-year long agitation that started in 1979 in Assam, the protestors demanded the identification and deportation of all illegal foreigners – predominantly Bangladeshi immigrants. This act would differentiate between illegal immigrants and persecuted communities seeking refuge. 

Arguments against the Amendment Act:

Classification of countries: It is not clear why migrants from these countries are differentiated from migrants from other neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka (Buddhism is the state religion) and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism).

Sri Lanka has had a history of persecution of a linguistic minority in the country, the Tamil Eelam.

Myanmar has had a history of persecution of a religious minority, the Rohingya Muslims.

Classification of minority communities: 

The amendment simply mentions the 6 ‘minority communities’ and there is no mention of ‘persecuted minorities’ or ‘religious persecution.’ So, ideally, it should not differentiate between religious persecution and political persecution. Moreover, the exclusion of Muslims, Jews, and Atheists from CAA are said to be a violation of Article 14 of the constitution. For example:

Persecution of co-religionists like Shias, Hazaras, or Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (who are considered non-Muslims in that country).

The murder of atheists in Bangladesh has also been noticed.

Classification based on the date of entry: CAA also offers differential treatment to migrants based on their date of entry into India, i.e., whether they entered India before or after December 31, 2014.

Against the letter and spirit of Assam Accord: The Assam accord put the date of detection and deportation of foreigners as March 25, 1971, whereas, for other states, it was 1951. CAA extends the cut-off date for NRC from 25th March 1971 to 31st Dec 2014. CAA extends the cut-off date for NRC from 25th March 1971 to 31st Dec 2014.

Cancellation of OCI registration: giving the central government the power to prescribe the list of laws whose violation result in cancellation of OCI registration, may amount to an excessive delegation of powers by the legislature.

Implication on external relations:

The amendment implies that religious persecution of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh as one of the reasons for the amendment and also implies that

Muslim migrants from Bangladesh will be “thrown out”. This invites trouble from Bangladesh with bearing on bilateral issues.

India’s strong commitment to civic nationalism and religious pluralism, have been important pillars on which India’s strategic partnerships with the US and the West have been built, which may be imperiled.

Conclusion:

Indian democracy is based on the concept of welfare and secular state and a progressive constitution where Article 21 provides the Right of a dignified life becomes a moral obligation of the state to allay the fears of minority communities if any.

Hence, the classification done in CAA based on country of origin and religious minorities can be made more inclusive.

Moreover, India should enact a refugee law wherein the right to live a life without fear or confinement can be protected. 

If the fear is that people may seek permanent asylum, the UNHCR can work with them officially for their voluntary repatriation, and without rendering long-term refugees ineligible for applying for citizenship.