Citizenship (Amendment) Bill-2016

Context :

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Lok Sabha in January this year but lapsed as it was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha. It had proposed to amend the original Citizenship Act of 1955. After returning to power with a majority for another term, the government is trying to resurrect the Bill.

About the Bill

  • The Bill had mandated that those who cross the border to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and belong to “minority communities”, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, would not be treated as illegal immigrants despite having entered the country without valid documents or with travel papers that had expired.
  • They would not face deportation under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946.

Need of the Bill

  • Many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the six “minority communities” had been unsuccessfully applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955 but were unable to produce proof of their Indian origin. Hence, they were forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation which prescribes 12 years’ residency as qualification.
  • The Bill stated that such a long-drawn process denies illegal immigrants from these six minority communities of the three foreign nations “many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently”.
  • The amendment shortened the period of residency from 12 to seven years for gaining citizenship by naturalisation.
  • The Bill had also empowered the government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India in case of any violation of the Citizenship Act or any other laws.

Concerns regarding the bill

  • Critics say that the bill violated the basic structure of the Constitution. By distinguishing illegal immigrants on the basis of religion, the proposed law goes against constitutional guarantee of the fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. The protection of Article 14 applies equally to both citizens and foreigners.
  • The Bill would hamper the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC), which defines all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion, on the basis of a cut-off date.
  • The Citizenship Bill is also seen as a move to subvert the Assam Accord of 1985. The Accord deems any person who cannot prove his ancestry beyond March 24, 1971 as an alien. It does not differentiate on the ground of religion in this aspect.

Source: PRS India & TH