Citizenship Amendment Bill: From delinking religion to no geographical restrictions, National Register of Citizens is not CAB

  • The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 is an instrument to grant citizenship to a particular set of illegal migrants while National Register of Citizens is an exercise to differentiate between illegal migrants from bona fide citizens

  • Except for Assam, the NRC has been conducted in any other state or Union Territory of the country so far.

  • It is significant that while 24 March, 1971 is the cut-off date for NRC, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 considers 31 December, 2014 as the cut-off date thus making the NRC exercise redundant by proposing to grant citizenship to all except for Muslims who were out of the NRC originally.

While the National Register of Citizens is an offshoot of the Citizenship Act, 1955 there are fundamental differences between the two. Although both deal with the subject of citizenship, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is an instrument to grant citizenship to a particular set of illegal migrants while National Register of Citizens is an exercise to differentiate illegal migrants from bona fide citizens.

What is Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is an attempt to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to enable a set of people to acquire Indian citizenship.

 Citizenship Amendment Bill: From delinking religion to no geographical restrictions, National Register of Citizens is not CAB

Activist and businessman Tehseen Poonawalla burns a copy of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill during a protest, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. PTI

Rationale behind Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The primary aim of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, is to provide a place of abode and bestow citizenship to people belonging to the minority religious communities of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who having faced atrocities for their religious affiliation were forced to flee to India without valid documents.

The Bill says: "It is a historical fact that trans-border migration of population has been happening continuously between the territories of India and the areas presently comprised in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in the said areas of Pakistan and Bangladesh when India was partitioned in 1947. The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. 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."

Eligibility criteria

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 say: "Provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act."

It primarily means people belonging only to the minority communities of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian residing only in the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered India on or before 31 December 2014 without valid documents and "have faced persecution on grounds of religion" in their parent countries will be accorded citizenship status in India.

Stringent norms to attain citizenship diluted for those covered by Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The proposed Bill also dilutes the norms required to attain citizenship by naturalisation for those covered by it as the earlier requirement of having resided in India for the last 12 months and for 11 of the previous 14 years have been brought down to just five instead of 11.

The Bill says, "... under section 6 of the said Act, which, inter alia, prescribe twelve years residency as a qualification for naturalisation in terms of the Third Schedule to the Act. This denies them many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently. Therefore, it is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act 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."

Taking a lenient view on these illegal migrants "the Bill further seeks to grant immunity to the migrant of the aforesaid Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities so that any proceedings against them regarding in respect of their status of migration or citizenship does not bar them from applying for Indian citizenship."

While the current provisions of the Act consider "migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh who entered into India without valid travel documents" or "the validity of their documents has expired" as "illegal migrants and ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship", the Government of India now proposes "to make the said migrants eligible for Indian Citizenship".

These specific set of migrants were already exempted "from the adverse penal consequences of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946" as per two notifications issued on 7 September 2015 and 18. July 2016.

The Bill proposes to accord citizenship of India to these illegal migrants "from the date of their entry in India if they fulfil conditions for Indian citizenship specified in section 5 or the qualifications for the naturalisation under the provisions of the Third Schedule to the Act."

Further "the Bill further seeks to grant immunity to the migrant of the aforesaid Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities so that any proceedings against them regarding in respect of their status of migration or citizenship does not bar them from applying for Indian citizenship."

To immune Overseas Citizen of India cardholders among those covered by the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 the government "proposed to amend Section 7D so as to empower the Central Government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder in case of violation of any provisions of the Act or any other law for the time being in force." The government even proposes "to provide the opportunity of being heard to the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder before the cancellation of the Overseas Citizen of India Card".  As per current norms "there is no specific provision in the Act to provide an opportunity of being heard".

Where Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 does not apply

The proposed amendment says "The Bill further seeks to protect the constitutional guarantee given to indigenous populations of North Eastern States covered under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the statutory protection given to areas covered under "The Inner Line" system of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873."

As per Article 244(2), “The provisions of the Sixth Schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the State of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.”

As of now, there are 10 autonomous district councils in these four states. Assam has the Bodoland Territorial Council, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council; Meghalaya has the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council and Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council; Tripura has the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council and Mizoram has Chakma Autonomous District Council, Lai Autonomous District Council, Mara Autonomous District Council as per Sixth Schedule to the Constitution.

As per the proposal in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Bill won't be applicable in the Autonomous District Councils (ADC) mentioned above.

Although Manipur has six ADCs — Churachandpur ADC, Chandel ADC, Senapati ADC, Sadar Hills ADC, Tamenglong ADC and Ukhrul ADC — and covered by the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 and amended in 2008, these ADCs do not enjoy the same status and empowerment as conferred by the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution to those in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

As per the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the proposed law won't be applicable in the areas covered by the Inner Line Permit (ILP).

According to GK Today, the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system is required by Indian citizens to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram and is issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, by the state governments. It is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period.

However, on Monday Union home minister Amit Shah assured the Lok Sabha that the Centre will bring Manipur within the ambit of ILP and the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, won't be implemented in the state.

Earlier on 23 July, 2018, the Manipur Assembly had passed the People’s Protection Bill which defined “Manipuris” and “non-Manipuris” and sought to regulate the entry and exit of the latter in order to protect the interests and identity of the indigenous people. A News18 report said that according to the Bill, "Manipuri included the Meiteis, the Pangal Muslims, Manipuri scheduled tribes listed under the Constitution and Indian nationals who have been living in Manipur before 1951. Those who didn’t fall under this umbrella were deemed “non-Manipuris” and were given a month to register themselves to the authorities. Additionally, outsiders visiting the state would have to obtain an Inner Line Permit, a system that is in place in three other northeastern states: Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland."

However, this legislation passed by the state Assembly is yet to get the presidential assent and may become insignificant if the Centre brings the state under ILP.

How Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is different from the National Register of Citizens (NRC)

The NRC is the register containing names of Indian citizens. First conducted in 1951 in Assam, a second NRC in the state was published on 31 August this year under the supervision of the Supreme Court.  The NRC updation exercise that culminated in the final list in August this year was a process of enlisting the names of citizens based on electoral rolls up to up to the midnight of 24 March, 1971 and 1951 NRC.

The purpose of the NRC update in Assam was to identify Indian citizens from among all the present residents of the state thereby leading to the identification of illegal migrants residing in the state, who entered into it after the midnight of 24 March 1971. It was updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

While the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is based on religion, NRC does not take religion into account. The NRC process was primarily dependent on what is called as legacy data. The NRC, 1951 and electoral rolls up to 1971 were referred to as legacy data in the NRC exercise that concluded in August this year. By referring to the legacy data, an individual had to prove that his or her ancestors were in Assam on or before 24 March, 1971.

It is significant that while 24 March, 1971 is the cut-off date for NRC, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 considers 31 December, 2014 as the cut-off date thus making the NRC exercise redundant by proposing to grant citizenship to all except for Muslims who were out of the NRC originally.

Except for Assam, the NRC has been conducted in any other state or Union Territory of the country so far.

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2019 14:25:12 IST