New Delhi: Amid looming fear of Opposition uproar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is set to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha on Monday. The Bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there.
In the afternoon, the home minister will introduce the Bill to amend the six-decade-old Citizenship Act and later in the day, it will be taken up for discussion and passage, according to the Lok Sabha's List of Business for Monday.
Members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship, according to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019.
To assuage feelings of tribals of the Northeast, where many feel that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants will disturb the region's demography, the government has made provisions under which the Bill will not be applicable in the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those tribal regions that are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
"In Citizenship Act, in Section 2 in sub-section (i), in clause (b) the following proviso shall be inserted namely:- "provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 and who has 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 rule or order made there under shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act," the Bill said.
Such refugees will be given Indian citizenship after they have resided in India for five years (six years in CAB 2016), instead of 11 years earlier, it said. The Bill also proposes to give immunity to such refugees facing legal cases after being found illegal migrants.
"On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.
"Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding pending against him and the central government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under section," it said.
The Bill also states: "Provided further that the person who makes the application for citizenship under this section shall not be deprived of his rights and privileges to which he was entitled on the date of receipt of his application on the ground of making such application".
According to the proposed legislation, the amendment will not be applicable to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and in the areas covered under The Inner Line, notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. The ILP regime is applicable in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The Bill also proposes to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.
However, the cancellation order shall not be passed unless the OCI card-holder has been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. This amendment was also proposed in the 2016. The Bill was an election promise of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP-led NDA government had introduced the Bill in its previous tenure and got the Lok Sabha's approval. But it did not introduce it in the Rajya Sabha, apparently due to vehement protests in the Northeast. That Bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.
Protests Against CAB
The Bill has triggered widespread protests in northeastern states with a large section of people and organisations opposing the Bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion. The influential North East Students' Organisation (NESO) calling an 11-hour bandh on December 10 in the region.
In Delhi, several people under different banners gathered at Jantar Mantar on Saturday to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and the NRC. Organised by an NGO named United Against Hate, the protesters were carrying placards with slogans like: 'Reject CAB! Boycott NRC!', 'India need jobs, education and health care, not nationwide NRC!'
Students from different universities, including JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University, as well as members of the All India Students' Association (AISA), joined the protest.
The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) had on on Thursday blocked the NH-8 and railway tracks from dawn to dusk to press for the scrapping of the Citizenship amendment bill (CAB) leading to disruption in vehicular movements and rail services.
Police said about 1200 supporters and activists of the tribal party put up road blockades at Khammtingbari at Baramura hill range in West Tripura district. No untoward incident took place due to the blockade.
Reaction from Opposition
The Congress will "tooth and nail" oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament as it is against the country's Constitution and its secular ethos, party leaders said on Sunday.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress' leader in Lok Sabha, made the party's stand clear after a meeting of the Congress' parliamentary strategy group at party president Sonia Gandhi's 10 Janpath residence in New Delhi.
Apart from Chowdhury, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, chief whip in Lok Sabha Kodikunnil Suresh and whip Gaurav Gogoi, among others, attended the meeting.
The Bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there. "We will oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament as it is against our Constitution, secular ethos and culture," Chowdhury told reporters.
Suresh told PTI that "we will oppose this bill tooth and nail as it is anti Constitutional and anti-secular". He said it was also decided at the meeting that the party will raise the case of rape and setting ablaze of the woman in Unnao, who passed away on Friday night.
The Shiv Sena, which recently formed government in Maharashtra after tying up for rivals Congress and NCP, is expected to support the Centre on the issue. "The issue is important, not the parties in power. The amendment to the Bill is what we favour. We may be in opposition, but not enemies of the government," a source said.
The government is implementing M A Jinnah's two-nation theory through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and India should not become like Pakistan, the CPI(M) said on Sunday while opposing the legislation.
Asserting that India believes in the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family), the party's general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the CPI(M) will move two amendments on the proposed law when it is introduced in Parliament.
Addressing a press conference, Yechury said India is a home equally for all religions and that people of all religions must get equal treatment.
The party will move amendments seeking deletion of all the clauses which specify religion as the basis of giving citizenship, he said. "No slide into narrow and dark sectarianism like this can be allowed. We strongly oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which gives citizenship on the basis of religion, that also to people from three countries," Yechury said.
Another party leader, Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, who accompanied Yechury in the conference said he is "shocked" at the bill for giving citizenship on the basis of religion. "The citizenship amendment bill, more or less, is the two-nation theory of Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah being effectively implemented by BJP. India should not follow Pakistan's way. Religion cannot be the basis of its nationhood," he said.
How NDA Members Reacted
The Shiromani Akali Dal on Sunday hailed the NDA government's decision to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament, saying a long-pending demand of the party has been accepted. The party, however, said the Bill should cover all persecuted people irrespective of their religion.
It said keeping in view the country's socialistic, secular and democratic credentials as well as humanitarian principles, Muslims should not be excluded from the Bill on the basis of religion.
A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the party's core committee which was presided over SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal at Badal village in Muktsar, a release said.
The party appreciated the Bill and said, "The NDA government has fulfilled the demand of the SAD as well as all minorities, including Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians, who had fled religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and taken refuge in India."
The SAD president noted that the party had been raising the issue of more than 75,000 Sikhs who had fled Afghanistan over 30 years ago and were living in Delhi in a difficult situation.
The core committee, while lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for the legislation, said efforts should be made to encompass all persecuted people under the Bill and not to have any distinction based on religion.
"Accordingly, a clause should be inserted in the Bill stating that all persecuted people who had sought refuge in the country would be given citizenship irrespective of their religion," the party release said.
Meanwhile, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said that India is duty-bound to give citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries as they are "victims" of the decision to divide the country on religious lines.
Responding to criticism of the Bill from political parties, Madhav said a similar legislation 'Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam)' Act was enacted in 1950 by the then Congress government led by Jawaharlal Nehru.
"Let me remind the critics of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, Nehru government had passed a similar bill in 1950 for expulsion of illegal immigrants mainly from erstwhile Pakistan (Bangladesh) and had categorically said that minorities of East Pakistan wouldn't be covered under the bill," Madhav told PTI in an interview.
Asserting that India has always kept its doors open for oppressed minorities, Madhav said," The persecuted minorities of the neighbouring countries, which are proposed to be given citizenship in the bill, are victims of the historical decision to divide this country on religious lines. And India is duty-bound to give citizenship rights to these minorities."
Madhav, who is party's pointsman for Northeastern states, said the government and Home Minister Shah held extensive consultations with various stakeholders from the region to address their apprehensions.
(With PTI inputs)