Citizenship Amendment Bill passes, but what does this mean?
December 11, 2019
The Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9 and passed at midnight after a twelve-hour debate. Our team went through the text of the bill with a fine-tooth comb and here’s what we found.
The present regime has been silently laying down the groundwork for the Citizenship Amendment Bill since 2015 via amendments of 2015 and 2016 in the Foreigners Order, 1948 and Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950.
The addition to the Foreigners Order, 1948 reads as follows:
“3a. Exemption of certain class of foreigners.- (i) persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014”
The addition to Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950 reads as follows:
“(ha) persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014- (i) without valid documents including passport or other travel documents; or (ii) with valid documents including passport or other travel document and the validity of any of such documents has expired: provided that provision of this clause shall take effect from the date of publication of this notification in the official gazette.”
In 2016, the above rules were amended to include Afghanistan.
Hence, one can say that these amendments were made since 2015; it happened right under our nose and it is now that we are being confronted with this idea.
CAB, simply put
If CAB is passed in both houses of Parliament and notified in the Gazette of India, the Citizenship Act, 1955 will stand amended and it will mean that all Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 without any valid travel documents such as passport, will not be considered an illegal migrant at all. In fact, such persons will be granted Indian citizenship by proving that they have resided in India for 5 years and additionally for a period of 12 months, right before applying for citizenship by naturalization.
By implication, or interpretation, all Muslims who seek Indian citizenship by naturalisation (application hitherto made after 12 years residence as migrants/refugees) will not be able for grant of citizenship by right. The statelessness which will undoubtedly result is a cause for deep concern as their fates could lie (not in the "Refugee" or "transit" camps as they are at the moment) but in detention camps. The legal basis of these detention camps is a fundamental questions as is the abysmal conditions of non-transparency in which they operate.
There are also concerns that this fundamental, statutory exclusion could, by manipulation and interpretation also impact those Indian Muslims who have never migrated, have always lived here for generations, but will subsequently be required to produce a slew of documents hitherto not a available to over 40% of Indians. (especially as and when the NPR-NRC exercise is launched).
CAB 2019 – In Depth
The main provision of CAB is the insertion of proviso in Section 2(1)(b); this clause of the sub-section includes the definition of an “illegal migrant”. The Act defines illegal migrant as a foreigner who has entered India without valid passport or travel documents or one who entered with such valid documents but stayed on after their expiry.
The amendment effectively exempts all illegal migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014, from being considered as illegal migrants.
The proviso reads as follows:
"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 migrant for the purposes of this Act;".
Under the main section titled “Citizenship by naturalisation” has been inserted section 6(B). It empowers an authority specified by the central government to grant a certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation to a person mentioned in the proviso mentioned above; and such person will be deemed to be Indian citizen from his/her date of entry into India. Further, clause (3) of section 6(B) also provides that 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.
Quite clearly this section provides for grant of citizenship to the migrants as aforementioned and it will naturally apply to Assam’s non-tribal areas (excluded from 6th schedule of Constitution) where NRC has been declared. Thus, granting citizenship to all non-Muslims in Assam as well; effectively giving a communal character to even the NRC in Assam, which was not the case until now, neither was such the intention of the Assam Accord.
Moreover, this section also includes sub-clause 4 of section 6(B), which mentioned exceptions as to application of this law. It states in simple language as follows:
“Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under "The Inner Line" notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873”
A sub-section (da) is being inserted after sub-section (d) under this section, which essentially deals with cancellation of registration as overseas citizen of India. The insertion seeks to cancel such registration if the cardholder violates any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law as will be specified by the Centre; albeit such order shall be passed only after the cardholder is given reasonable opportunity of being heard.
There is also a proposal for insertion to the third schedule of the Act which deals with ‘Qualifications for Naturalisation’. One of the qualifications for naturalisation is that the person should have been residing in India or been in service of the government throughout the 12 months preceding application for citizenship. Further out of the 14 years, preceding this 12-month period, the person should have resided or been in government service aggregately for 11 years.
This particular requirement of 11 years has been reduced to only 5 years for the non-Muslim illegal migrant from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
This requirement was proposed to be at 6 years in the previous version of this bill which got lapsed when Lok Sabha got dissolved earlier this year, owing to General Elections.
Who is exempted from CAB and why?
The provisions of CAB are full of exceptions and proviso to the current Citizenship Act. There are however some territories that are being exempted from application of these exceptions and proviso. After the north East erupted so strongly against CAB, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had invited the Chief Ministers of north-eastern States and leaders of socio-cultural bodies, students’ organisations and political parties for discussions on the plan to amend the Citizenship Act. These discussions took place on November 29 and November 30.
At this meeting, Amit Shah agreed to make some changes in the bill and assured civil society groups and political representatives that ethno-cultural concerns of all stakeholders in the North-East would be addressed, and that the Bill would provide protection to such regions and states where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is applicable, and autonomous administration has been granted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The ILP is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. The ILP regime is under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Section 2 of the regulation says the ILP system is present in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
As mentioned above, in Section 6B (4), the government has fulfilled its promise and exempted tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under "The Inner Line".
Further, since Manipur does not get included in either of these exemptions, while addressing the Lok Sabha when the bill was in consideration, the Union home Minister, Amit Shah mentioned that Manipur will be brought under Inner Line Permit regime and effectively out of the purview of CAB.
Connect the dots: NPR-NRC-CAB
Sabrang India, which has very closely been following the questions and answers in the winter session of Parliament observed that the government has been dodging questions related to NRC and CAB. Once such question was pertaining to relation between NPR and NRC. Although the answer given by the Home Ministry was fact based and oblique, the real answer may be found in an archived website of india.gov.in., under the heading “National Population Register: My Identity My Pride”
This page states, “The creation of the National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards preparation of the NRIC (National Register of Indian Citizens)” or the commonly known NRC. It further states, “Out of the universal dataset of residents, the subset of citizens would be derived after due verification of the citizenship status. Therefore, it is compulsory for all usual residents to register under the NPR.”
The connection between the NRC and NPR is clearly enumerated on this website as it states, “The National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) will be a Register of citizens of the country. It will be prepared at the local (Village level), sub District (Tehsil/Taluk level), District, State and National level after verifying the details in the NPR and establishing the citizenship of each individual. The NRIC, therefore, would be a sub-set of the NPR.”
One can only imagine why this explanation has been dumped into the archives, given the crafty approach of our ruling government.
With NPR set to begin in April 2020 and conclude in September 2020, NRC will slowly start creeping into the big picture by the beginning or middle of next year; the big picture being “Hindu Rashtra”, the long-lost dream of right-wing extremists of India. Before you know it, the dictionary meaning of “secular” will also change along with the idea of “India” as had been envisaged by the founding fathers of our country.
The complete bill can be read here.
First published in Sabrang India.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.