Row over Citizenship Bill escalates in Assam

Why in news?

A BJP MP has warned that Bangladeshi Muslims are a bigger threat to Assam than Hindus from that country, countering opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Highlights

  • The BJP MP was responding to the alleged endorsement of the Bill by the Asom Sattra Mahasabha — the apex body of Vaishnavite monasteries — before the Joint Parliamentary Panel in New Delhi on April 12.
  • The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make ‘persecuted’ Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
  • Organisations such as the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) have said they will not allow the BJP to implement its plan to “dump Hindu Bangladeshis” in the State by tweaking the Citizenship Act. They have also asked the Mahasabha heads to quit.
  • The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the BJP’s ruling ally, too has joined the anti-Citizenship Bill chorus. The regional party has been threatening to sever ties with the BJP on the issue for more than a year now.
  • “The Mahasabha knows what it is doing. Some people are making noises without realising that the Bangladeshi Muslims pose a bigger threat to Assam than the Bangladeshi Hindus,” Ms. Chakraborty told presspersons on Friday.
  • The issue of Bangaldeshi migrants has roiled Assam and dominated elections since the anti-foreigners agitation in 1979.
  • The Mahasabha’s secretary, Kusum Kumar Mahanta, denied the criticism, and said the spiritual organisation had done nothing “that is against the interest of the State”. BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami said people with vested interests had been creating a wrong impression about the Citizenship Bill. “This is not about Hindu Bangladeshis but religious minorities from neighbouring States, and Assam alone won’t bear the burden of the migrants,” he said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

Highlights of the Bill

  • The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
  • Under the Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation 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.
  • The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

Key Features

Definition of illegal migrants

  • The Citizenship Act, 1955 prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. The Bill amends the Act to provide that the following minority groups will not be treated as illegal migrants: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, to get this benefit, they must have also been exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the central government.

Citizenship by naturalisation

  • The 1955 Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation if he meets certain qualifications. One of these is that the person must have resided in India or served the central government for a certain period of time: (i) for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship, and (ii) for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period. For people belonging to the same six religions and three countries, the Bill relaxes the 11-year requirement to six years.

Cancellation of registration of Overseas Citizen of India cardholder

  • The 1955 Act provides that the central government may cancel registration of OCIs on various grounds, including: (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. The Bill adds one more ground for cancelling registration, that is, if the OCI has violated any law in the country

Key Issues and Analysis

  • The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
  • The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (eg. parking in a no parking zone).

Q.1 With respect to Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, consider the following statements.

  1. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
  2. Under the Act, 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.
  3. The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

Choose the correct answer from the codes given below

  1. 1 only
  2. 1 and 2 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. All of the above

Answer: d) all of the above

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