Explained: What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and why is it controversial?

The NDA expects to have a smooth passage of the bill in the Lower House but will face a challenge when it is taken up in the Rajya Sabha later in the week.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah (Photo | PTI)
Union Home Minister Amit Shah (Photo | PTI)

The Narendra Modi government on Monday tabled the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha amidst an uproar from Opposition parties who called it anti-minority and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

The NDA, which has a brute majority in Lok Sabha, expects to have a smooth passage of the bill in the lower House. However, it will face a challenge when the Bill will be taken up in the Rajya Sabha later in the week.

What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 in order to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan (all Muslim-majority nations) escaping religious persecution there. 
  • Once the bill is enacted, immigrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi communities from the three countries will not be treated as illegal. 
  • They will also be eligible to get naturalised citizenship. 
  • One of the requirements for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. 
  • The Bill relaxes this 11-year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries.
  • They will also be no longer deported or jailed under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920. 
  • December 31, 2014 will be the cut-off date after which any person moving to India from these neighbouring countries will be considered for citizenship.
  • However, the new law will not apply to parts of the north-east, where the Bill has been met by protests.
  • The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

Who are illegal migrants?

According to the Citizenship Act, 1955, illegal migrants in Indian cannot get citizenship. The law says all those who have entered India without valid travel documents like passports and visas or have come to India with valid documents but stay here longer than the period mentioned therein are considered illegal migrants.

What makes the bill contentious?

  • Those who oppose the bill say that it discriminates on the basis of religion and is, therefore, against the secular ethos of the Indian Constitution.
  • Some Constitutional experts cautioned that the bill violates Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality to all before the law. 
  • The north-eastern states are against the Bill as they believe it will lead to a greater influx of illegal migrants. 
  • Seeing the opposition to the Bill in the region, the BJP-led government has decided to exempt parts of the region which are under the sixth schedule of the Constitution – which deals with autonomous tribal-dominated regions in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The bill will also not apply to states that have the inner-line permit regime (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram).

Why is the Centre bringing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?

At a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party last week, Defence minister Rajnath Singh clarified that the bill was the top priority of the government as it was an election promise of the BJP. "Minorities in the neighbouring theocratic countries have been subjected to continuous persecutions, which forced them to seek asylum in India. Giving citizenship to six minorities will be yet another push from the Modi government to the spirit of ‘sarva dharma sambhav’,” Singh said.

Is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in any way connected to the National Register of Citizens (NRC)?

Assam, which implemented the NRC, targeted only illegal immigrants. Unlike the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which is based on faiths, NRC seeks people to prove that either they or their ancestors were residing in Assam on or before March 24, 1971. 

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