- Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, with Rajya Sabha passing it on 11th December, 2019. Lok Sabha passed the Bill on 9th December, 2019.
- On 12th December, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, turning it into an Act.
- The Act came into force on 10th January, 2020.
What are the constitutional provisions relating to citizenship in India?
- Indian constitution doesn’t prescribe a permanent provision relating to citizenship in India.
- It describes categories of persons who are deemed to be citizens of India on the day the Indian constitution was promulgated on January 26, 1950, and leaves citizenship to be regulated by law made by the parliament.
- Part II of the Constitution of India (Articles 5-11) deals with the Citizenship of India.
- Article 11 gave powers to the Parliament of India to regulate the right of citizenship by law.
- The Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 was enacted in exercise of this provision.
The Citizenship Act, 1955
- In India, citizenship is regulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955.
- The Act specifies that citizenship may be acquired in India through five methods
- By Birth in India
- By Descent
- Through Registration
- By Naturalisation (extended residence in India)
- By Incorporation of Territory into India
- The Act also provides 3 ways by which a citizen may lose his Indian citizenship. They are
Who is an illegal migrant?
- An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents.
- An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India, and deported or imprisoned.
Can illegal migrants acquire citizenship?
- An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.
- In September 2015 and July 2016, the central government exempted certain groups of illegal migrants from being imprisoned or deported.
- These are illegal migrants who came into India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious communities.
What is Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019?
- CCA 2019 amends The Citizenship Act, 1955 to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian illegal migrants, who entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014, eligible for citizenship of India.
- In order to get this benefit, they must have also been exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the central government.
- Under The Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years.
- CAA 2019 amends the Third Schedule to make applicants belonging to the said communities from the aforesaid countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation if they can establish their residency in India for five years instead of the existing eleven years.
- On acquiring citizenship, such migrants shall be deemed to be Indian citizens from the date of their entry into India and all legal proceedings regarding their status as illegal migrants or their citizenship will be closed.
- The provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants would not apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
- The 1955 Act provides that the central government may cancel the registration of OCIs on various grounds. CAA 2019 adds one more ground for cancelling registration
- The Act amends section 7D so as to empower the Central Government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder, after providing a reasonable opportunity of being heard, in case of violation of any provisions of the Citizenship Act or any other law for the time being in force.
Why Central government enacted CAA 2019?
According to Union Minister for Home Affairs, Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 will give a new ray of hope to persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have migrated to India after facing persecution on the ground of religion in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
- The Act is aimed at giving a dignified life to these people who had suffered religious persecution for decades by granting Indian Citizenship to them, if they fulfil conditions for grant of citizenship.
- Central government cited the provisions from Constitutions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh where they provide for a specific state religion and claimed that these countries have had a history of persecution of religious minorities viz., Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
- 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.
- Thus, Central governmnet enacted CAA 2019, which contains provisions to grant Citizenship to such refugees on reasonable grounds.
Criticisms against the Act
- Any provision which distinguishes between two groups may violate the standard of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, unless one can show a reasonable rationale for doing so.
- Critics argue that the Act provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of (a) their country of origin, (b) religion, (c) date of entry into India, and (d) place of residence in India.
- Two of India’s neighboring countries, Sri Lanka (Buddhist state religion) and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism), have had a history of persecution of Tamil Eelams (a linguistic minority in Sri Lanka), and the Rohingya Muslims, respectively.
- There are other religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (considered non-Muslims in that country), and Atheists in Bangladesh who have faced religious persecution and may have illegally migrated to India.
- These sections are not considered in Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
- For the above reasons, those who are opposing the Act argue that CAA 2019 makes only certain illegal migrants eligible for citizenship.
- This implies that all other illegal migrants will not be able to claim the benefit of citizenship conferred by the Bill, and may continue to be prosecuted as illegal migrants.
[Source: PIB, prsindia.org]