NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on December 4 passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, (CAB) 2019 that seeks to provide Indian nationality to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, said sources.
The Bill, which amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 that labels a person an illegal immigrant if he or she has entered India without travel documents or has overstayed the date specified in the documents.
The CAB 2019 has been opposed by the opposition parties like Congress, Trinamool, DMK, Samajwadi Party, RJD and the Left for leaving out Muslims and also on the ground that it is at odds with the Constitution, which does not differentiate between citizens on the basis of their faith. Parties sympathetic to the ruling NDA like BJD have expressed reservations.
During the last winter session, the Lok Sabha had passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016. While the Bill awaited passage in the Upper House, it had lapsed after the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
The Opposition had then raised objections against the proposed amendments, which exclude Muslims and minorities from Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Opposition parties are once again likely to push for the Bill to be referred to a select committee before it is discussed in the Upper House.
What is The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?
The Bill seeks to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955 to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship of India. In other words, the Bill intends to make it easier for non-Muslim immigrants from Indias three Muslim-majority neighbours to become citizens of India.
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.
The amendment relaxes the second requirement from 11 years to 6 years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to these six religions, and the aforementioned three countries.
Under The Citizenship Act, 1955, a person who is born in India, or has Indian parentage, or has resided in India over a specified period of time, is eligible for Indian citizenship.
Illegal migrants cannot become Indian citizens.
Under the Act, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who: (i) enters the country without valid travel documents like a passport and visa, or (ii) enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period.
Illegal migrants may be put in jail or deported under The Foreigners Act, 1946 and The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
However, in 2015 and 2016, the government exempted specified groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1946 and 1920 Acts. They were Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who reached India on or before December 31, 2014.
This meant that these particular categories of illegal migrants would not be deported or jailed for being in India without valid documents.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Parliament to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955, so that these people could be made eligible for citizenship of India.