Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019: All you need to know about the much-debated law

What is Citizenship Amendment Bill: The Bill intends to make it easier for non-Muslim immigrants from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbours to become citizens of India.

Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, Citizenship Bill 2019
Students hold placards during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Guwahati, Tuesday
Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, Citizenship Bill 2019
Students hold placards during a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati (PTI/File Photo)

Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 Explained: The Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, paving way for its introduction in Parliament during the ongoing Winter session. In its amended form, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB) seeks to provide Indian nationality to six minority communities — Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist — fleeing “persecution” from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Ever since it was first tabled in the Parliament in July 2016, the Bill has been mired in controversies for granting citizenship rights to specific communities. Here’s all you need to know about the bill:

What is the Citizenship (Amendment), Bill?

While illegal migrants cannot become Indian citizens, the government had exempted specified groups of illegal migrants in 2015 and 2016 from provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946 and The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. The Centre’s intervention meant that these particular categories of illegal migrants would not be deported or jailed for being in India without valid documents.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was tabled in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016 during NDA-1 to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955 so that these people could be made eligible for citizenship of India. The Bill was referred to JPC and based on committee’s report, the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha.

However, massive protests erupted in the North East and acted as a deterrent for the introduction of the Bill in Rajya Sabha. Finally, Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die on February 13, 2019, without the Bill being tabled. The Bill lapsed as the 16th Lok Sabha was dissolved.

Highlights of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019

The bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.

Under the earlier proposed Act, one of the requirements for citizenship is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Citizenship Bill 2019 relaxes this 11-year requirement to 6 years for applicants belonging to these six religions, and the aforementioned three countries.

The Bill allows that registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled for violation of any law, including minor offences such as parking in a no-parking zone.

Why the concern in Northeastern states?

The Northeastern states have flagged concerns over the Citizenship Amendment Bill time and again. The prospect of citizenship for massive numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has triggered deep anxieties, including fears of demographic change, loss of livelihood opportunities, and erosion of the indigenous culture in the northeastern states. Massive protests had erupted in anticipation of the introduction of the Bill.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah held discussions with political leaders and civil society groups of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya on the contours of the proposed legislation.

The Home Minister assured the representatives from North East that the Bill would provide protection to such regions and states where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is applicable, and autonomous administration has been granted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

What is the controversy around the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019?

The government has maintained that the bill has significance equivalent to its decision on Article 370. The government argued that the Bill aims to grant citizenship to minorities who have faced religious persecution in Muslim-majority foreign countries.

On the other hand, the Opposition has attacked the government for leaving out Muslims, terming it in violation of Constitutional provisions. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees the right to equality.

According to the experts on the issue, the BJP-led NDA government is unhappy with the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise as a large number of Hindus have been excluded from the final list while a large number of illegal foreigners’ names have been included. The overall situation has created trepidation and dissatisfaction amongst the state leadership of BJP. The BJP wants to undo the damage with the introduction of amended CAB.

The BJP has always underlined its determination to bring in the Bill. The BJP leaders have pitched the NRC and the CAB as a package that will root out illegal migrants but will provide citizenship to persecuted communities from the neighbouring Muslim-majority countries.

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