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Explained: Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 [Mains Articles]

The President's assent to Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB), comes amid intense outrage across Assam and Tripura, where curfew has been extended indefinitely in some parts.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
December 14, 2019

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Citizenship of India in Indian constitution
  • Highlights of the Citizenship (Amendment) (CAB) Act, 2019
  • What are the criteria to get an Indian citizenship?
  • Criticism of Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
  • Protest in Assam
  • About 6th schedule
  • About 125thamendment bill
  • Conclusion

Explained Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019

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Introduction

Recently, the President of India gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, turning it into an Act.

citizenship amendant bill 3

Though government says that the new act is aimed at giving a dignified life to these people who had suffered religious persecution for decades by granting Indian Citizenship to them, it attracts intense protest from North East states on account of violation of Assam Accord.

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Citizenship of India in Indian constitution

Citizenship of a country grants an individual civil and political rights in that country.

  • Articles 5 to 8 of the Indian Constitution govern the conditions under which an individual can get Indian citizenship.
  • Article 9 governs the conditions when the same can be revoked.
  • Article 10 gives the right for the continuation of the citizenship.
  • Article 11 gives the government the authority to make rules related to citizenship.

Highlights of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

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Eligibility for citizenship for certain illegal migrants

  • The bill amended the Act to provide that illegal migrants from religious minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship.
  • 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.

 Exception

  • Provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to areas under Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and areas under Inner Line Permit (ILP). These tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District.  It will also not apply to the areas under the ‘Inner Line’ under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.  The Inner Line Permit regulates visit of Indians to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.  

Citizenship by naturalization:

  • The Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, 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.
  • It further reduces the period of naturalization to 5 years. (The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 reduced it from 11 years to 6 years).

Grounds for cancelling OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) registration: 

The Act provides that the central government may cancel registration of OCIs on five grounds registration through fraud,

  1. Showing disaffection to the Constitution,
  2. Engaging with the enemy during war,
  3. Necessity in the interest of sovereignty of India,
  4. Security of state or public interest, or
  5. If within five years of registration the OCI has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more.

The Bill added one more ground for cancelling registration, that is, if the OCI has violated any law that is in force in the country.

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What are the criteria to get an Indian citizenship?

In India, the Citizenship Act, 1955 prescribes five ways of acquiring citizenship:

Birth:

  • Every person born in India on or after the 26thJanuary, 1950, is a citizen of India by birth provided his / her father is not an enemy or representative of a diplomatic mission.
  • A person born in India on or after 1st July, 1987 but before 3rdDecember, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if either of his parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth.
  • A person born in India on or after 3rd December, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if both the parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth.

Descent:

  • A person born outside India on or after Jan 26, 1950 but before 10th December 1992 is a citizen of India by descent if his/her mother/father is a citizen of India at the time of his birth.
  • A person born outside India on or after 10thDecember 1992 but before 3rd December, 2004, is considered as a citizen of India if either of his parents was a citizen of India by birth at the time of his birth.
  • A person born outside India on or after 3rdDecember, 2004 is not a citizen of India, unless the parents declare that the minor does not hold passport of another country

Registration:

A person can acquire citizenship by registering themselves with prescribed authority. Such categories of persons are:

  • Persons of Indian origin residing outside the territories of undivided India
  • Those persons of Indian origin who are ordinarily residents in India and have been so resident for 6 months immediately before making application for registration
  • Women who are married to citizens of India
  • Children of Indian citizens
  • Adult citizens of commonwealth country or republic of Ireland

Naturalization:

  • A foreign citizen not covered by any of the above methods can get Indian citizenship with the following conditions:
  • Belongs to a country where the citizens of India are allowed to become subjects or citizens of that country by naturalization.
  • Renounces the citizenship of his country and intimated the renunciation to the Government of India.
  • Has been residing in India or serving the government for 12 months before the date of making application for naturalization.
  • Possess a good character
  • Possess working knowledge of Indian Languages
  • Intends to reside in India after naturalization.

Incorporation of the territory:

  • If a new territory becomes a part of India, the government of India specifies the persons of that territory who shall be citizens of India.

Loss of Indian Citizenship

  • The Citizenship Act envisages three 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 citizenship through the declaration, he ceases to be Indian Citizen.

By Termination 

  • Any person who acquired Indian Citizenship has voluntarily acquired citizenship of another country at any time between January 26, 1950 to December 30,1955, shall have ceased to be an Indian Citizen.

Deprivation 

  • Government can deprive a citizen of his citizenship by issuing an order. However, this power may not be used in the case of every citizen. It applies only to those, who acquired Indian Citizenship. 
  • A person is deprived of Indian citizenship on the ground of obtaining the citizenship by fraud or misrepresentation, disloyalty towards the Indian Constitution, communication with India’s enemy during the war, imprisonment for longer than two years within five years of registration or naturalization or residing outside India for longer than seven years at a time.

Criticism of Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

Does differentiating on grounds of religion is a violation of Article 14?

Article 14 guarantees equality to all persons, including citizens and foreigners. The question is whether this Act violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution as it provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of country of origin, religion, date of entry into India, and place of residence in India.

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Some argues that act discriminates against Muslims.

  • The act classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the act states that millions of citizens of undivided India were living in Pakistan and Bangladesh, no reason has been provided to explain the inclusion of Afghanistan.
  • Further, it is not clear why migrants from these countries are differentiated from migrants from other neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka (Buddhist state religion) and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism). Similarly, India shares a border with Myanmar, which has had a history of persecution of a religious minority, the Rohingya Muslims.
  • It is unclear why illegal migrants from only six specified religious minorities have been included in the act. It may be argued that there are other religious minorities, who face religious persecution and may have illegally migrated to India. For example, there have been reports of persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (who are considered non-Muslims in that country). 
  • It is also unclear why there is a differential treatment of migrants based on their date of entry into India, i.e., whether they entered India before or after December 31, 2014.
  • The act also excludes illegal migrants residing in areas covered by the Sixth Schedule. Once an illegal migrant residing in these areas acquires citizenship, he would be subject to the same restrictions in these areas, as are applicable to other Indian citizens. Therefore, it is unclear why the act excludes illegal migrants residing in these areas.

Wide discretion to government to cancel OCI registration

  • The act adds an additional ground for cancelling registration of the Overseas Citizenship of India(OCI) if OCI has violated any law notified by the central government.
  • It may be argued that 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. The act does not provide any guidance on the nature of laws which the central government may notify. Therefore, powers given to the executive may go beyond the permissible limits of valid delegation.

Protest in Assam

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Background

  • When the British occupied Assam in 1826, they had Bangla-speakers coming in from West Bengal to do the clerical work.
  • The Bangla-speakers convinced the British administration that Assamese language emanated from Bangla language and eventually got Bangla imposed as the official language of Assam. Though, the Assamese language became official language of Assam in 1873 due to the intervention of the Baptist missionaries, the insecurity of the Assamese people over the dominance of the Bangla language continued.
  • As per Census 2011, the percentage of people speaking Assamese decreased from 58 % in 1991 to 48 % in 2011, while Bengali speakers in Assam went up from 22 % to 30 % in the same period, showing dominance of Bengali speakers.

Protest

citizenship law differs from the Bill 1

The protest in Assam are based on two provisos of 2019 act:

  • The cut-off date for recognising the illegal immigrants
  • Areas in the ambit of 2019 act

Cut-off date:

  • The illegal Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh have settled in large numbers across the North East, majority in Assam, from 1951 to 1971.
  • The 2019 act defined year 2014 as cut-off date (i.e, those who have arrived in India from Bangladesh, from six religions, before 2014 can get citizenship. However, as illegal migrants have come before 2014 (between 1951 to 1971), they can get citizenship easily).
  • This, the protesters say, is a violation of the Assam Accord of 1985.

Assam Accord

  • Assam Accord, signed between Indian government and All Assam Students Union (AASU), defines cut-off date as March 25, 1971. The Assam Accord’s cut-off date was also the basis of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

How is Citizenship Amendment Act different from NRC?

  • The National Register of Citizens, the process of which has been recently completed in Assam, looks to remove illegal immigrants from India.
  • According to NRC, a person, to be eligible to be a citizen, would have to prove that either they or their ancestors were in India on or before March 24, 1971, the eve of the Bangladesh War. The war of liberation had begun in Bangladesh the next day, which sent thousands of refugees to India.
  • The Centre would be extending the NRC process to the rest of India. The NRC has nothing to do with religion, whereas, the CAB is based on some faiths.

6th schedule areas and ILP areas:

  • The CAB 2016 Bill was to be implemented in entire India. The Assamese fear that if Bangla-speaking illegal immigrants are granted citizenship, these immigrants may outnumber the Assamese people, as it has happened in Tripura where Bengali-Hindu immigrants from East Bengal now dominate political power, pushing the original tribals to margins.
  • Hence, 2019 act mentioned that areas mentioned in the 6th Schedule of the Constitution and areas under Inner Line Permit (ILP) are exempted from the act.
  • However, some areas of Tripura and Assam are not protected under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Bengali Hindu, leaving in those areas, can get Indian Citizenship. (The Sixth Schedule have only 7 of 33 districts of Assam).
  • Despite most of their areas being under Inner Line Permit (ILP), the other states of North East are also opposing the act due to influx of Chakmas and Hajongs from Bangladesh, Bru refugees from Myanmar, Tibetans and overflow of Bengali migrants from Bangladesh who does not find a place in Assam, since all of them are covered under 2019 act. These states are worried that demographic changes due to the influx of non-state subjects will endanger local cultures and languages.

What is Inner Line Permit?

  • The Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to grant inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period.
  • Currently, the Inner Line Permit is operational in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
  • ILP is based on the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, which protected the British Crown’s interest in tea, oil and elephant trade.

About 6th schedule

  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India allows for the formation of Autonomous District Councils to administer regions which have been given autonomy within their respective states (i.e., Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram).Inner-Line-Permit

 

Features of 6th Schedule

The tribal areas in the four states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram have been constituted as autonomous districts. But, they do not fall outside the executive authority of the state concerned.

Governor powers: The governor can increase or decrease their areas or change their names or define their boundaries. If there are different tribes in an autonomous district, the governor can divide the district into several autonomous regions. The governor can appoint a commission to examine on any matter relating to the administration of the autonomous districts or regions. He may dissolve a district or regional council on the recommendation of the commission.

District council composition: Each autonomous district has a district council consisting of 30 members, of whom four are nominated by the governor and the remaining 26 are elected on the basis of adult franchise. The elected members hold office for a term of five years (unless the council is dissolved earlier) and nominated members hold office during the pleasure of the governor. Each autonomous region also has a separate regional council.

Council’s Function: The district and regional councils administer the areas under their jurisdiction. They can make laws on certain specified matters like land, forests, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs and so on. But all such laws require the assent of the governor. The district and regional councils within their territorial jurisdictions can constitute village councils or courts for trial of suits.

The district council can establish, construct or manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, ferries, fisheries, roads and so on in the district. It can also make regulations for the control of money lending and trading by non-tribals. But, such regulations require the assent of the governor. They are empowered to assess and collect land revenue and to impose certain specified taxes.

Application of Acts: The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions.

Background

  • The British had their commercial interest mainly in tea in the North East areas of India. In order to secure their commercial interest in the area, British decided to keep those areas isolated from the rest of the country. Inner Line Regulation 1873, Govt. of India Act 1919 and 1935 completed the task of isolating the hill people from the plains people.
  • Under the Government of India Act, 1935, the hill areas of Assam were divided into two Categories-Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas. These areas were administered by the state government subject to the special powers of the Governor. The 1935 Act did not give local self-government or political autonomy to the hill tribes of these areas to manage their local affairs.
  • The Lushai Hills, Naga Hills and the North Cachar Hills were under the excluded areas, over which the provincial ministry had no jurisdiction. The Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, and the Mikir Hills were partially excluded areas. These districts had five representatives in the Assam Legislative Assembly.
  • The Indian National Congress perceived this as a trick of the British government to keep North East people apart from the rest of the country thereby making it easier for them to exploit the mineral and forest resources in these areas. Congress therefore wanted the abolition of the provision of Excluded and Partially Excluded areas.
  • However, after Independence, there were demands for regional autonomy and better status within the constitutional framework from the tribes of the hill areas of Assam.
  • In order to ensure their participation in decision making and safeguarding tribal interests, Government of India appointed a Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly – the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Committee– under the Chairmanship of Gopinath Bardoloi, Chief Minister of Assam.

Recommendations of Bardoloi committee

  • Recommended the abolition of the excluded and the partially excluded areas and representation of the hills districts in the legislative Assembly.
  • Recommended for a District Councils of the tribal areas, which were incorporated into the Article 244 (2) of the Sixth Schedule.
  • Also made provision for Regional Council for the tribes other than the main tribe.

In short, this scheme sought to build up autonomous administration (District Councils and the Regional Council) in the hill areas of Assam so that the tribal people could preserve their traditional way of life, and safeguard their customs, and cultures.

About 125th amendment bill

  • Passed in January 2019, the Bill amends provisions related to the Finance Commission and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • It increases the financial and executive powers of the 10 Autonomous Councilsin the Sixth Schedule areas of the north-eastern region.

Provisions

  • The amendments provide for elected village municipal councils, ensuring democracy at the grassroots level.
  • The village councils will be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry.
  • The Finance Commission will be mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to them.
  • The Autonomous Councils now depend on grants from Central ministries and the State government for specific projects. At least one-third of the seats will be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura after the amendment is approved.

Conclusion

The Citizen amendment Bill is a humanitarian step to grant citizenship to those who suffered for the last 70 years. It also re-correct the failure of the Nehru-Liaqat pact of 1950. However, it can be equally said that Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 fail the test of constitutionality because of the exclusion of some countries and communities using religion.

Hence, there is need to give more emphasis to founding principles of equality and secularism of Indian constitution while enacting a law.

 

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