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Two days after the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 received assent in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha has also signed off on the proposed legislation.
On December 9, Union Home Minister Amit Shah sought to introduce the Bill which had been green signalled by the Union Cabinet last week. However, various Members of Parliament including Shashi Tharoor and Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the introduction of the Bill on the ground that it went against the spirit of the Constitution.
The Bill was first introduced back in 2016, and took three years to be passed by the Lok Sabha. However, the efforts of the Centre to pass the proposed legislation in the Upper House were stymied, and the Bill lapsed.
The newer version of the Bill has now been passed muster in both Houses of Parliament. All that remains now is the assent of the President of India for the Citizenship Amendment Bill to become law.
The Bill seeks to add a proviso to the definition of “illegal migrant” under Section 2 of the Citizenship Act. The proposed proviso states thus:
“Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act.”
In effect, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants under the Act.
Another change is that the Bill seeks to reduce the number of years required for citizenship by naturalisation for the above mentioned communities. The current requisite period of residence in India for eleven years will be cut down to five years.
Presently under the Citizenship Act, anyone who does not have a valid passport or who has stayed in India for a period beyond the permitted time, is described as an “illegal migrant”, irrespective of nationality or religion. Such illegal migrants are liable to be prosecuted under the Foreigners Act, 1946and The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
However, the Centre exempted those illegal migrants from the ambit of the two Acts who were Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, provided they reached India on or before December 31, 2014.
The Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015, which effectively made these changes, are currently under challenge before the Supreme Court. Filed by Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha (Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill), this challenge contends that these subordinate legislations have diluted the meaning of “illegal migrant” under the Citizenship Act.
Read the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019: