Union Cabinet okays Citizenship Amendment Bill: All you need to know about the draft law mired in controversy

  • The government intends to introduce The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on 9 December in Lok Sabha

  • The Bill is criticised for implying a hierarchy of citizenship where some illegal immigrants are considered to be more 'equal' than others, on the basis of religion.

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has proposed to considerably ease these conditions. It seeks to nearly half the period required to stay in India for claiming citizenship, even after illegally entering India.

Although the northeastern region continues to express its outrage against the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, the Union Cabinet is likely to clear the contentious legislation in a crucial meeting on Wednesday morning scheduled at 9.30 am.

With Home Minister Amit Shah holding discussions with key political leaders, representatives of students' bodies and civil society members from the Northeast over the past few days, including a meeting which took place on Tuesday, there is a strong likelihood that the Bill could be cleared at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation is likely to be introduced by the government in the Upper House on 10 December, reported media sources.

The NDA government had introduced the Bill in its previous tenure and got the Lok Sabha's approval. However, it couldn't pass the Rajya Sabha due to vehement protests.

The new bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India due to religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan even if they don’t have proper documents.

The government intends to introduce The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament’s Winter Session that commenced on 18 November and is scheduled to continue until 13 December.

Let's take a look at the Bill and why it is contentious.

 Union Cabinet okays Citizenship Amendment Bill: All you need to know about the draft law mired in controversy

Winter session of Parliament. PTI.

What is Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?

Among the key issues to be discussed is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB that seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship.

One of the primary requirements of the Citizenship Act of 1955 is that the applicant or the immigrant should have entered legally, and lived in India in the past 12 months as well as for the past 11 of the 14 years from the date of his/her application.

The bill is likely to be introduced afresh in the Winter Session. It will have to be passed by both Houses in order to become a law.

What does the amendment propose?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has proposed to considerably ease these conditions. It seeks to nearly half—from 11 to six years—the period required to stay in India for claiming citizenship, even after illegally entering India.

This implies that once the bill is voted into law it will allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to become Indian citizens, even if they have entered illegally.

The Bill’s main criticism and impact:

The Bill is criticised for implying a hierarchy of citizenship where some illegal immigrants are considered to be more “equal” than others, on the basis of religion. This may violate Constitution’s Article 14 which guarantees right to equality.

The Bill also seeks to overhaul the definition of “illegal immigrants”, purely on the basis of religion. The Bill also seeks to override many rules of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.

As for now, these two laws empower the Central government to imprison or deport illegal immigrants found to be living in India, irrespective of their nationality or religion.

If passed in the Parliament, The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, will imply that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who arrived in India on or before 31 December, 2014 will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India even if found to be living without valid documents.

Hence, effectively, any person belonging to these six religions and from these three countries can claim Indian citizenship, if they have entered India by 31 December, 2014 and have been staying in the country for at least six years, even if illegally.

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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2019 17:24:55 IST