The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019. It will now be introduced in Parliament only to see the opposition resist it tooth-and-nail. While the general impression is that the NRC is supposed to merely tell who is a citizen of the country and who is not, if a non-Muslim is excluded from the National Citizens Register, the Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect him/her, there is more to the opposition to this change in the law that would define who is an Indian.
1. Citizenship basis: Religion
The Bill provides for the granting of citizenship of India to non-Muslim refugees (Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Christian community) victims of religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Citizenship Act 1955 is proposed to be amended under the Civil Amendment Bill 2019.
Through this change, citizenship will be given to those non-Muslim refugees who have been living in India for the past one year to six years.
2. Exemption from citizenship clause
States, where Inner Line Permit (ILP) is in force and six Scheduled Tribe Areas in four States of the Northeast, are exempted from the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
3. Relaxation in the citizenship rule
Presently, the period of acquiring citizenship under the Citizenship Act 1955 applicable in India is 11 years. The period for acquiring citizenship has to be relaxed from one year to six years under this rule.
4. Reduced time
Through this bill of 2019, refugees of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Christian communities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will get citizenship of India in one to six years instead of 11 years.
5. Illegal to legal
According to the law of 1955, illegal migrants cannot get citizenship of India. In this, people who have entered India without valid travel documents like passports and visas or have stayed there for more than the mentioned period are considered illegal migrants.
6. No incarceration or deportation
Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or sent back to their countries. But, through the bill of 2019, the central government has changed the old laws and exempted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
7. Excluded Muslims won’t be jailed or deported either
Under the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, if non-Muslim refugees are found in India without valid documents, they will not be sent to jail nor will they be deported.
Tharoor vs Sarma
The opposition alleges that Muslims are being targeted through this bill. The bill violates Article 14 of the Constitution which talks about the right to equality, they say. INC leader Shashi Tharoor said on Wednesday that this undermines the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
Tharoor said that this bill was unconstitutional as it violated the basic idea of India. On the other hand, organisations in the Northeast say that if the Citizenship Amendment Bill is implemented, it will threaten the identity of the indigenous people in the region and threaten their livelihood.
Meanwhile, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has claimed that the confusion over the bill has been removed. For the past few days, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah has bees trying to clear the confusion by holding various meetings with various stakeholders for 100 hours on the issue of the bill. The government says this bill as historic. The government compares the bill ideologically to the removal of Article 370. This is the reason Union minister Rajnath Singh asked all the MPs when the Home Minister Amit Shah would present the bill in Parliament, all the MPs of the BJP should be present in the House.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2016. On 12 August 2016, the bill was referred to a joint parliamentary committee.
The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 2019 after the report of the committee. However, it could not be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.