Citizenship Bill to enter Lok Sabha Monday, whips issued

Abantika Ghosh

A protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati on Friday. Dasarath Deka

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014, will be introduced in Lok Sabha Monday.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has permitted tabling of amendments to the Bill by members up to Monday morning since the Bill is also listed for consideration and passage the same day. Both BJP and Congress have issued whips, directing members to be present in the House.

The 2019 Bill has a provision which was not there in its 2016 avatar. The new provision states that proceedings pending against any person for his or her inability to meet the citizenship criteria earlier, if eligible for citizenship under provisions of the new Bill, will be granted citizenship and the proceedings will abate.

With an India entry cut-off date of December 31, 2014 for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis — it leaves out Muslims — from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Bill reduces the 11-year clause for such people to five years to prove their residency in India. The Bill itself does not mention religious persecution but it figures in the statement of purposes.

Cleared Wednesday by the Union Cabinet, the proposed law will not apply to a large part of the Northeast region — Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram (they have Inner Line Permit regime) and Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura (Mizoram too has Sixth Schedule areas). The Bill effectively leaves out just Manipur of all the North East states from complete or partial exemption from the ambit of the law.

The National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam, which has since been rejected by the state government, left out an estimated 19 lakh people, many of them Hindus. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the CAB will be passed before an NRC exercise is conducted across the country.

As the Bill heads to Parliament for passage, non-BJP parties stand divided. Parties like the JD(U) have given up opposition to the Bill and are ready to back its passage. Trinamool chief national spokesman Derek O’Brien said: “This is the government’s attempt to do NRC damage control. That is why it has been our position that NRC and CAB cannot be de-hyphenated and that is also why West bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said she will not allow NRC in the state. We call upon other states to resist it.”

The statement of objects and reasons with the CAB details the history of Partition and the trans-border migration to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. “The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, process and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continue to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.”

Such migrants can invite legal action under provisions of the Passport (Entry in India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act ,1946. The government, however, exempted some migrants from prosecution through notifications issued in 2015 and 2016 and also made them eligible for long-term visa to stay in India through orders issued in 2016. The current Bill will make them eligible for Indian citizenship.