UPSC MAINS 2019: Getting citizenship could become easier for some

Citizenship

Topic: Getting citizenship could become easier for some

Citizenship

Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 2: Indian Polity

Context:

The winter session of Parliament may see the government push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016.

 

More about on news:

  • The proposed law, which amends the original Citizenship Act of 1955, mandates that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal immigrants despite having entered India without valid documents.
  • They will not face deportation as illegal immigrants under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946.
  • Illegal immigrants from these six communities from these countries are assured a smooth sail to citizenship over Muslims.
  • The Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on July 15, 2016, explains that many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the six “minority communities” from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been unsuccessfully applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955 but are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin. Hence, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation which prescribes 12 years’ residency as qualification.
  • The Bill states that such a long-drawn process denies illegal immigrants from these six minority communities of the three 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 shortens the period of residency from 12 to seven years for gaining citizenship by naturalisation.
  • The Bill also empowers the government to cancel registration as OCI in case of any violation of the Citizenship Act or any other laws.
  • Recently, the government has made its resolve clear to go ahead with the amendments by notifying amendments in the Citizenship Rules of 2009 to include a separate column notifying changes in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to six communities from these three nations.

 

Constitutional provisions about citizenship:

The provisions of citizenship are covered by Articles 5 to 11 and are embodied in Part II of the Constitution.

  • Article 5 refers to citizenship not in any general sense but to citizenship on the date of the commencement of the Constitution.
  • Articles 6 and 7 deal with two categories of persons, namely, those who were resi­dents in India but had migrated to Pakistan and those who were residents in Pakistan but migrated to India.
  • Article 8 deals with Rights of citizenship of certain persons of Indian origin residing outside India
  • Under Article 9 of the Constitution, and person who voluntarily acquires the citizenship of any foreign State, even if qualified for Indian citizenship under any provision of the Constitution, may not be a citizen of India.
  • Article 10 says that every person who is or is deemed to be a citizen of India under any of the foregoing provisions of this Part shall, subject to the provisions of any law that may be made by Parliament, continue to be such citizen.
  • Article 11 deals with power of Parliament to regulate the right of citizenship by law and states that nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Part shall derogate from the power of Parliament to make any provision with respect to the acquisition and termination of citizenship and all other matters relating to citizenship.

 

Special rights enjoyed by citizens:

Fundamental Rights provided in Indian constitution are available to citizens of India only; some of the fundamental rights which are not enjoyed by a non-citizen of India are:

  • Right to be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, sex, cast or birth of place
  • Equal opportunities in public employment
  • Right of six democratic freedoms (Article 19) + Cultural & educational rights

 

Only citizens of India have the right:

  • To hold civil office
  • Right to vote
  • Right to be judges of courts

 

Again, citizens alone have the right to hold certain high offices such as those of the President, Vice-President, Governor of a State, Judge of Supreme Court and High Courts, Attorney General, etc. the right to vote to elect a member of the Lok Sabha and a Vidhan Sabha and the right to become a Member of the Parliament and a State Legislature are reserved for citizens only.

 

Acquisition of Indian Citizenship as per Citizenship Act 1955:

Indian Citizenship can be acquired under the following ways:

  • Citizenship at the commencement of the constitution of India
  • Citizenship by birth
  • Citizenship by descent
  • Citizenship by registration
  • Citizenship by naturalization.

 

Termination of Indian Citizenship as per Citizenship Act 1955: One can lose citizenship of India in 3 ways – Renunciation, Termination and Deprivation

There are 3 situations under which a citizen of India may lose his Indian Nationality.

  • By Renunciation: If any citizen of India who is also a national of another country renounces his Indian citizenship through a declaration in the prescribed manner, he ceases to be an Indian citizen of registration of such declaration.
  • By Termination: Any person who acquired Indian citizenship by naturalisation, registration or otherwise,, of he or she voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country he shall have ceased to be a citizen of India from the date of such acquisition.
  • By Deprivation: The Central Government is empowered to deprive a citizen of his citizenship by possible grounds of a citizenship certificate by means of fraud, false representation, concealment of any material fact; disloyalty of disaffection towards the Constitution shown by act or speech; assisting an enemy with whom India is at war.

 

Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016:

  • The Centre is planning to change the definition of illegal migrants through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
  • “Citizenship Act, 1955” allows an immigrant to apply for citizenship if he/she has lived in India for 12 months immediately before applying.
  • Additionally, the applicant should’ve also resided in India for 11 of the last 14 years before the date of application.
  • In 2016, an amendment bill was introduced, for relaxing the 11-year cutoff to 6 years out of 14 for immigrants of the 6 religious faiths.
  • It is for enabling “Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis & Christians” from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship.
  • In other words, the amendment seeks to make non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries eligible for Indian citizenship.
  • Also, the government passed two notifications for exempting such immigrants from the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920.
  • Notably, this meant that they can’t be deported – thereby enabling them to continue living in India (provided that they had arrived before 2015).

 

Why this bill became necessary:

  • The Government says, many persons of Indian origin, including persons belonging to six minority communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been unsuccessfully applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955.
  • They are not able to produce their proof of Indian origin.
  • So, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalization which prescribes 12 years residency as qualification.
  • In the process, they are losing many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India.
  • The amendment shortens the period of residency from 12 to 7 years for gaining citizenship by naturalization.

 

Why it became controversial?

  • Critics say it violates the basic tenets of the Constitution.
  • Here, illegal immigrants are distinguished on the basis of religion.
  • It goes against the fundamental right to equality under Article 14.
  • Article 14 applies equally to both citizens and foreigners.
  • The Bill would hamper, what the Assam National Register of Citizens seeks to achieve in the State.
  • NRC does not distinguish on the basis of religion/faith.

 

What are the implications of getting the bill passed?

  • Since 1971, about 20 lakh Bengali Hindus are living illegally in India.
  • The current bill seeks to relax citizenship rules for these people who are living in India illegally (since before 2015) by giving them due recognition.
  • Additionally, as the bill also seeks to relax citizenship rules for religious minorities from the neighbourhood, it might enhance influx.
  • Notably, some estimates hold that as many as 1.70 crore Hindus who are currently living in Bangladesh, might want to get Indian citizenship.
  • Nevertheless, some legal experts have opined that the amendment bill will not stand legal scrutiny as it discriminates on the basis of religion.

 

Why is it facing opposition?

  • The Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) — an ally of the BJP in Assam — has threatened to part ways with the BJP if the Bill is passed.
  • Like the JD(U), the AGP too believes that the Bill would alter the cultural and linguistic identity of the indigenous people of the state.
  • Most opposition parties, including the Congress, have opposed the proposal of granting citizenship on the basis of religion. The opposition has argued that the move would nullify the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is currently under way in Assam.

 

How does it nullify the NRC?

  • The NRC is being updated in Assam to detect Bangladeshi nationals who may have illegally entered the state after March 24, 1971 — the date decided in the Assam Accord of 1985.
  • The second draft list of the NRC has not been released yet, while the first updated list was concluded by December 31, 2017.
  • Following the NRC, anyone found to have entered Assam illegally after March 24, 1971, irrespective of their religion, will be deported.
  • While the Bill will grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees persecuted in neighboring countries, the NRC is not designed to classify migrants on the basis of their religion.
  • Hence, if the Bill becomes an Act, non-Muslims found to have entered Assam after March 24, 1971 need not go through the deportation process, thereby nullifying the NRC process.

 

Sample Question:

Critically examine how the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 is a threat to the cultural and linguistic identity of the people of Assam.