Citizenship Bill: Confusion over proposed law can be dispelled by separating law from politics, say experts

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. This shall make the migrants belonging to the six minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who had suffered persecution, eligible for Indian citizenship.

Citizenship Bill: Confusion over proposed law can be dispelled by separating law from politics, say experts

AASU activists seen protesting in various places burning tyres in Dibrugarh in Assam. Avik Chakraborty/101Reporters

The passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha has led to the political backlash in Assam and has caused unrest in the rest of the North East, with protests being led essentially by ethnic Assamese groups, who are of the view that the burden of illegal migrants will be passed on to their state alone.

Though Home Minister Rajnath Singh had clarified in the Rajya Sabha on 9 January and has reiterated his views on several platforms that his government is “committed to preserve North East’s identity”, confusion on some aspects of the bill has only added to the controversy and has further led to intense posturing by certain groups.

In Assam, Asom Gana Parishad which was the key coalition partner of the ruling BJP quit the state government, accusing the Centre of being anti-Assam.

PRS Legislative Research in its analysis of the Bill has highlighted two key issues which can be an important point of analysis of the Bill as they have added substantially to the controversy, leading to the opposition of the Bill.

It is said that “the Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality”. Another point of contention is a presumption that the “bill allows cancellation of OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (eg. parking in a no-parking zone)”.

Commenting on these two issues DP Singh, senior advocate, Supreme Court of India, at a discussion organised by Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) said, “The law (The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 will withstand the scrutiny under Article 14 of the Constitution because it conforms to the principles of intelligible criteria of differentiation and rationality.” He also said that it is a wrong interpretation and a wrong assumption that cancellation of OCI registration can take place even if one violate a traffic or a parking rule.

Ajit Lal, former chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee (National Security Council Secretariat) and former interlocutor, Naga Peace Talks while touching upon the history of illegal migration highlighted the fact that how Muslim migrants pose a larger threat to Assam’s demography as compared to Hindu Bangladeshis, be it due to illegal occupation of char lands or radicalisation.

Subimal Bhattacharjee, who works in rural Barak Valley through his initiative Jookto highlighted the fact that the beneficiaries of the bill “are the people who have been persecuted on religious grounds in Bangladesh, and as such the penance of partition need not be borne by the same people”.

He also said that Bangladesh’s Sylhet district is more prosperous than the neighbouring districts and it is highly unlikely that more than a few people would apply for Indian citizenship anew.

Nitin Gokhale, journalist and defence expert pointed out that Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is not Assam-centric and the burden of the ‘illegal’ migrants would be shared across the country. He also highlighted various policies adopted by the successive governments to protect the interests of the Assamese people that includes implementation of clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

Gokhle pointed out to the latest decision by the government to constitute a committee to look into various aspects of the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord as a positive development.

Among other steps pointed out by Gokhle to show that how the Central government has tried to protect the interests of the Assamese people, Gokhle said that the home ministry-appointed committee had recommended on 29 December to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to six communities of Assam namely Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Tea Tribes, Moran and Matak and the government accepted the recommendations.

Gokhle said that by giving ST status to these communities, it will be ensured that “interests, rights and privileges of the existing tribes there will be fully protected”.

While the confusion and controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill continue, the experts rightly point out that any misgivings regarding the Bill can be shed only by separating the law from the politics.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 14:25:43 IST

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