My title is: Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 | Indian Polity | GS-2

Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

2020-04-26 | 7 minutes

Citizenship (Amendment Act) 2019

Purpose of the act

The Citizenship (Amendment Act) 2019 aims to provide rehabilitation to the persecuted minorities of the three countries and to ease the process of recognition of illegal migrants by amending Citizenship Act of 1955.

Provisions

  • The act aims to give Indian citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christian and Parsi religious communities coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afganistan. Under the act, the person from the specified category can apply for citizenship by naturalization.
  • All persons from the given category who came to India before December 31, 2014, can have the Indian citizenship provided they meet the condition of naturalization. The category has been specified because it includes people who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion.”
  • From the date of the enforcement of the act, all the proceedings being faced by the specified category under Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 and Foreigners Act, 1946 shall stay cancelled and they can apply for Indian citizenship by the naturalization process.
  • The act does not apply to 6th Schedule areas (Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura) and states having Inner Line Permit (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur) notified under Eastern Regulation Frontier 1873. 6th Schedule areas include:
  • Assam: North Cachar Hills, Karbi Anglong district, Bodoland Territorial Area District.
  • Meghalaya: Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hill districts.
  • Tripura: Tripura Tribal area District
  • Mizoram: Chakma, Mara, Lai district
  • The act states that all the stated minorities who could not get Indian citizenship under the 1955 act because they are not from Indian origin and are illegal migrants, the process of citizenship through the process of naturalization has been relaxed. To get the citizenship they have to show that
  • Their aggregate period of stay in India is 5 years in the last 14 years.
  • Also, they have been residing in India or been in central government services for the last 12 months.
  • The act provides for the cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizen of India if they violate any law in the country notified by the central government.

Background

Under the constitution (Article 11), Parliament can make citizenship-related laws. So it enacted Citizenship Act 1955 under which citizenship can be acquired by birth, by descent, by naturalization, by registration, by incorporation of territory.

  • Citizenship by Birth: A person born before January 1, 1950, would be deemed to be a citizen of India by birth. Later in the 2003 amendment, the cut-off date was shifted to December 3, 2004. A person born after this date would get citizenship when one of his parents is an Indian and the person is not an illegal migrant.
  • Citizenship by Descent: Any person born outside the country but one of his parents are Indian can be granted citizenship provided the person is registered with Indian consulate within 1 year.
  • Citizenship by Registration: If a person is related to an Indian citizen through marriage or ancestry he or she can get citizenship by registration.
  • Citizenship by Naturalisation: It can be granted to a person who is not an illegal migrant and they have to show that their aggregate period of stay in India is 11 years in the last 14 years. Besides this, they have been residing in India or been in central government services for the last 12 months.
  • If according to the central government the person has given distinguished services in the field of science, art, literature, philosophy, world peace or human progress some or all the conditions can be waived- off. Example- Dalai Lama, Adnan Sami.

The act has been amended 1957, 1960, 1985, 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005 and 2015. The citizenship can be cancelled by renunciation, termination or deprivation.

OCI status

The Overseas Citizen of India is a person who is a Person of Indian Origin and given such status under the Citizenship Act 2015.

The status of Overseas citizenship of India was given in 2003 after the demands being made from the Indian Diaspora. As the Indian constitution does not allow double citizenship (Article 9), so by 2003 amendment, it was stated that a Person of Indian origin could have the OCI status provided the person belongs to 16 specified countries and does not belong to Pakistan and Bangladesh. By the amendment made in 2015, the OCI status eligibility was extended the Indian Diaspora belonging to all the countries except Pakistan and Bangladesh. Also, OCI was to be called an OCI cardholder.

 Accordingly, an OCI is one who has the citizenship of other countries

  • But is of Indian origin or has been or was eligible to be an Indian citizen at the commencement of the constitution, or
  • Who is a child, grandchild or great-grandchild of Indian citizen, or
  • The person is married to an Indian.

The status can be cancelled if the person renounces the status or the registration is cancelled by the Indian Government subject to certain conditions. The cancellation conditions are:

  • OCI status is obtained by fraud.
  • Showed disaffection towards the constitution.
  • Engaged with war enemy.
  • Within 5 years after registration subjected to 2 years of imprisonment.
  • Necessary to do this in the interest of the country.
  • Marriage dissolved (including bigamy).

Issues with the act

  • It is said that the act violates Article 14 of the constitution which gives equal treatment to all citizens and foreigners unless provided by the law. Even if the classification of exclusion is reasonable, the particular classification has to be imposed alike.
  • If the purpose of the act is to ensure the safety of persecuted minorities then why not include Rohingyas from Myanmar, Ahamadiyas from Pakistan and Tamilians from Sri Lanka.
  • Assam is also agitating against the act as it can bring more migrants within the state thus have the potential to nullify the Assam accord which set the cut-off date till 1971. Also, clause 6 of the accord promised that constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards will be taken to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
  • It has widened the cancellation of OCI or overseas citizen of India. Earlier under the 1955 Act, OCI card could be cancelled (i) if the OCI had registered through fraud, or (ii) if, within five years of registration, the OCI was sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more. Some other conditions are also there like nullifying the marriage with the Indian spouse. Now the act has the wide discretion to cancel the OCI card based on petty offenses also.

Arguments in support of the act

  • Article 14 is not violated because any state has all the right to put certain conditions to the process of conferment of citizenship on any person. Also, Article 14 states that unequal treatment can be exuded in some reasonable conditions.
  • Article 15 of the constitution which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion does not apply to foreigners and the act is not discriminating with the citizens of the country.
  • The process promotes positive secularism or Sarva Dharma Sambhava because only persecuted minorities from the three countries are taken (Example- Pakistan is classified as a country of particular concern by U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom). They would be having full rights to follow the freedom of religion. India, since histories had been at the forefront to give place to the persecuted minorities or certain classes like it gave place to the Jews who ran from Germany, fearing the genocide by Hitler.
  • Also, the act tends to correct the flaws of Nehru- Liaqat Pact signed in 1950, according to which minorities' rights need to be secured in both the countries. Pakistan has not fulfilled this promise.
  • Though India does not have any refugee law and also not a member of the refugee convention 1951, it has a standard procedure which states that India can give refugee status based on the human rights violation or persecution.
  • The rights of indigenous person have been taken care off as Schedule 6 areas and areas having Inner line permit has been excluded from the act.
  • The conditions can not be open to all the countries as every state has to look upon its economic, social and security interests before allowing citizenship. Like there have been reports that Rohingyas been used by ISIS terrorist groups. Also, Ahmadiyas in Pakistan, though persecuted, chose a separate nation at the time of independence.