Recently, the Parliament has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and seeks to make foreign illegal migrants of certain religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship.
How is citizenship acquired in India?
In India, citizenship is regulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Act specifies that citizenship may be acquired in India through five methods – by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India.
Can illegal migrants acquire citizenship?
- An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship. An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents. An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India, and deported or imprisoned.
- In September 2015 and July 2016, the central government exempted certain groups of illegal migrants from being imprisoned or deported. These are illegal migrants who came into India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious communities.
How does the Bill seek to change the criteria for determining citizenship?
- The Bill proposes that the specified class of illegal migrants from the three countries will not be treated as illegal migrants, making them eligible for citizenship.
- On acquiring citizenship, such migrants shall be deemed to be Indian citizens from the date of their entry into India and all legal proceedings regarding their status as illegal migrants or their citizenship will be closed.
- 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 central government service for the last 12 months and at least 11 years of the preceding 14 years.
- For the specified class of illegal migrants, the number of years of residency has been relaxed from 11 years to five years.
Are the provisions of the Bill applicable across the country?
The Bill clarifies that the proposed amendments on citizenship to the specified class of illegal migrants will not apply to certain areas.
These are –
- the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, and
- (ii) the states regulated by the “Inner Line” permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873. These Sixth Schedule tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District. Further, the Inner Line Permit regulates visit of all persons, including Indian citizens, to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Criticism of the Bill –
- Any provision which distinguishes between two groups may violate the standard of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, unless one can show a reasonable rationale for doing so. The Bill provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of (a) their country of origin, (b) religion, (c) date of entry into India, and (d) place of residence in India. The question is whether these factors serve a reasonable purpose to justify the differential treatment.
- The Bill classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Statement of Objects and Reasons (SoR) in the Bill reasons that millions of citizens of undivided India were living in Pakistan and Bangladesh, no reason has been provided to explain the inclusion of Afghanistan. The SoR also states that these countries have a state religion, which has resulted in religious persecution of minority groups. However, there are other countries which may fit this qualification. For instance, two of India’s neighbouring countries, Sri Lanka (Buddhist state religion) and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism), have had a history of persecution of Tamil Eelams (a linguistic minority in Sri Lanka), and the Rohingya Muslims, respectively.
- Further, there are other religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (considered non-Muslims in that country), and atheists in Bangladesh who have faced religious persecution and may have illegally migrated to India. Given that the objective of the Bill is to provide citizenship to migrants escaping from religious persecution, it is not clear why illegal migrants belonging to other neighbouring countries, or belonging to religious minorities from these three specified countries, have been excluded from the Bill.
Source – PRS India