Daily Current Affairs – 26th August, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
‘Biased’ citizenship bill draws flak
Government has introduced a Bill to amend certain provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
About Citizenship Act, 1955
The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides various ways in which citizenship may be acquired. It provides for
- Citizenship by birth,
- By descent,
- By registration,
- By naturalisation and
- By incorporation of territory into India.
In addition, it regulates registration of OCIs (Overseas Citizen of India Cardholders), and their rights. An Overseas Citizen of India is entitled to some benefits such as a multiple-entry, multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India.
- The Bill amends the Act to provide that that the following groups of persons will not be treated as illegal migrants:
- Proposed bill enables – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – who have fled to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh without valid travel documents, or those whose valid documents have expired in recent years, to acquire Indian citizenship by the process of naturalisation.
- Under the Bill, such persons shall not be treated as illegal immigrants for the purpose of the Citizenship Act.
- Citizenship by naturalization (11 years’ requirement will be reduced to six years):
- The Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, if the person meets certain qualifications.
- One of the qualifications is that the person must have resided in India or been in service of the central government for at least 11 years before applying for citizenship.
- Now, the Bill creates an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with regard to this qualification.
- For these groups of persons, the 11 years’ requirement will be reduced to six years.
- Cancellation of registration of OCIs:
- The Act provides that the central government may cancel registration of OCIs on certain grounds.
- These include:
- If the OCI has registered through fraud, or
- Within five years of registration has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more, or
- It becomes necessary in the interest of sovereignty and security of India, etc.
- The Bill adds one more ground for cancelling registration, that is, if the OCI has violated any law that is in force in the country.
Benefits of the amendments
- Allows the above said refugees to acquire Indian citizenship by the process of naturalisation.
- A large number of people who would otherwise be illegal immigrants can now heave a sigh of relief if the Bill goes through as they would be eligible to become citizens of the country.
- The Bill, when passed, would be of immense benefit to the Chakmas and Hajongs of Bangladesh displaced because of the construction of the Kaptai Dam who have been refugees for nearly 65 years.
- Grant citizenship to eligible persons from these communities will help to protect their life and liberty and further prohibit discrimination against them.
Limitations of the Bill: Not inclusive enough
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, owes its genesis to the assurance given by the Prime Minister that Hindus from these three countries who have sought asylum in India would be conferred Indian citizenship.
- But since singling out Hindus alone could be discriminatory.
- The Bill has to extend the right to acquire citizenship to other religious minorities living in the three countries as well.
- e., the new citizenship legislation should include refugees from persecuted minorities of all denominations who have made India their home.
Three principles which underlies India’s treatment of refugees:
- Though India has not enacted a national refugee law, the three principles underlying India’s treatment of refugees was spelt out in Parliament by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959 with reference to Tibetan refugees.
- They include:
- Refugees will be accorded a humane welcome;
- The refugee issue is a bilateral issue; and
- The refugees should return to their homeland once normalcy returns
Why proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is biased?
- The proposed Bill recognises and protects the rights of refugees and represents a welcome change in India’s refugee policy.
- But it would have been appropriate if the Bill had used the term “persecuted minorities” instead of listing out non-Muslim minorities in three countries.
- Such a gesture would also have been in conformity with the spirit of religious and linguistic rights of minorities guaranteed under our Constitution.
- Unfortunately the Bill does not take note of the refugees in India from among the Muslim community who have fled due to persecution and singles them out on the basis of religion, thereby being discriminatory.
Another disappointing feature of the Bill is that it does not provide citizenship to the people of Indian origin from Sri Lanka who fled to Tamil Nadu as refugees following the communal holocaust in July 1983.