Following the passage of the Citizen Amendment Bill in the parliament of India and its turning into CAA, altering the citizenship law of 1955 in 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today issued a notice allowing any person belonging to minority communities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsis and Christians — residing in 13 districts of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab to apply for Indian citizenship.
However, today’s move is more like a workaround. The union government yesterday issued a gazette notification, granting powers under existing rules for the districts above. The order comes under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules, 2009 and not under the CAA of 2019.
This is because rules of the CAA have not yet been framed, sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said. A similar notification had been issued in 2018 for other districts in several states.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the Central Government hereby directs that powers exercisable by it, for registration as a citizen of India under section 5, or for grant of certificate of naturalisation under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, in respect of any person belonging to (a) minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians… shall also be exercisable by the Collector, within whose jurisdiction the applicant is ordinarily resident,” the notification said.
The districts listed in the notification are Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara (Gujarat); Durg and Balodabazar (Chhattisgarh); Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi (Rajasthan); Faridabad (Haryana); and, Jalandhar (Punjab).
Sansad had cleared the CAA in late 2019. Protests, some of which were violent, had erupted across the country against the new law. According to the amended citizenship law, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who came from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till 31 December 2014 and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants and will be eligible for Indian citizenship. The law excludes Muslims.
The home ministry has not notified the CAA rules so far. More details are awaited.
Those opposing the amended law say it discriminates on the basis of religion and violates the Constitution. They also allege that the CAA, along with the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), is intended to target India’s Muslim community.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led union government has dismissed the allegations, maintaining that the law is intended to give citizenship to the persecuted people from the three neighbouring countries and not take away citizenship from anyone.
“The verification of the application is done simultaneously by the Collector or the Secretary, as the case may be, at the district level and the state level and the application and the reports thereon shall be made accessible simultaneously to the Central Government on (the) online portal,” the 28 May order said.
“The Collector or the Secretary, as the case may be, on being satisfied with the suitability of the applicant, grants him the citizenship of India by registration or naturalisation and issues a certificate of registration or naturalisation, as the case may be, duly printed from (the) online portal and signed by the Collector or the Secretary, as the case may be, in the form as prescribed in the said rules,” the notification said.
“The rules are essential for (the) implementation of the Act. The rules are supposed to specify the kind of documents that would be needed to prove whether the applicant came from these countries to India before the cut off date (31 December 2014) or not. Most illegal immigrants have entered the country without any travel documents,” sources said.