Explained: Citizenship Rules, 2003

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The parliament had enacted the Citizenship Act in the year 1955. The Act indicates who an Indian citizen is. This Act additionally exhibits a gamut of rules that explain the process of acquiring the citizenship of India. Furthermore, the Act also specifies what it takes for citizenship to be revoked.

This Act has witnessed several amendments. In the year 2003, the government, under the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, created a provision of National Registry of Citizens under the Citizenship Act of 1955. This step was taken by the government due to a major influx of Bangladeshi immigrants into the state of Assam.

Owing to this invasion, there was widespread fear that the locals of Assam would suffer from swift depletion of resources. Additionally, it was also feared that the low population of locals in Assam would soon become a minority and it may potentially lead to a cultural homicide if this monumental influx were encouraged. This dilemma had led to the Assam Movement.

However, it is interesting to note that the first National Registry of Citizens was drafted in the year 1951. Furthermore, the implementation of this structure was even discussed by the UPA government on several occasions.

However, in light of the current amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2019, there’s a massive furore in the country. It is therefore important to examine some of the aspects of the National Registry of Citizens and also fathom the reasons behind the widespread discontentment of the public.  

Salient features

The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 has delved into the issue of citizenship of persons born outside of India. That is, this Act has mentioned that those born outside of India could claim citizenship on descent if he/she were born on or after 26th January 1950, but before 10th December 1992 if his/her father was a native to the Indian soil.

Furthermore, persons born after the 10th of December 1992 could claim their citizenship if either of their parents were born in India. Several such conditions were presented in this Act that explained the process of gaining citizenship if the persons were born abroad.

Furthermore, the Act also highlighted some of the ways in which citizenship could be gained by those who were not illegal immigrants. For instance, if a person has been living in the country for a period of 7 years, that person would be eligible for citizenship. It is interesting to note that the term “illegal immigrant” was substituted with “not Indian citizen” through this Amendment Act.

This Act also provided with various provision under the rubric of ‘overseas citizenship’. To elucidate, the conferment of rights has been discussed elaborately. That is, the Act has mentioned that these overseas citizens were entitled to all rights, with certain exceptions. For instance, a person with overseas citizenship is not bestowed the right to equal opportunities in the employment sphere.

They are also not given the right to contest in presidential and vice-presidential elections. Moreover, they are not even eligible for the appointment of civil services posts. The Act further delves into the process of revocation of overseas citizenship. The following section discusses the part of the amendment that focussed on National Registry of Citizens.  

Inception of NRC

The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 had added various provisions to the Citizenship Act of 1955. For instance, this Act had set out to issue national identity cards for each and every citizen to facilitate easier identification of who a citizen of the country is. The Act forbids the destruction of these identity cards under any circumstances, except when done with legal authority.

The Act further aimed at setting up a National Registry of Citizens. To facilitate the drafting of the National Registry of Citizens, the Act also mandated the setting up the National Registration Authority. The registrar or sub-registrar of the National Registration Authority has the power to ask for any document from any person to prove their citizenship.

Furthermore, this Act necessitates the registry to contain various details about each citizen. When this amendment came about in the year 2003, this registry was predetermined to have applied to the entire country. The Act categorically mentioned that the head of each family had to cooperate with the officials during the making of the registry and aid them by producing accurate and factual details.

It further mentioned that each citizen had an obligation of registering themselves under this mechanism. Moreover, the Act mentioned that it was the responsibility of the head of a family to get the family members included under this registry.

Additionally, the Act looked into the scenarios wherein, people live in asylums, orphanages, etc. To elucidate, the Act spoke about how it was the responsibility of the head of these institutions to get these people registered. Moreover, the Act also provided certain conditions which, when fulfilled would lead to the erasure of a name from the registry. In addition to this, the Act also specified that the onus is on each citizen to notify the registrar about the revocation of their citizenship within 30 days of the said revocation. 

Furthermore, the Act gives room for some corrections when errors creep in during the drafting of the registry. However, these demands for corrections must be made within 30 days from the date of the publication of the registry. However, it is within the discretion of the registrar to make the final changes within 90 days of the appeal.

It is interesting to note that the Act mandates the officials of the Centre and State governments to collaborate during the process of the drafting of the registry. The Act makes it imperative for the National Registration Authority to declare when the National Registry of Citizens would be enforced throughout the country. 

Owing to the ever-increasing infiltration of illegal migrants in the state of Assam, this mechanism was only applicable to this state. This registry was first prepared in the year 1951. However, in the year 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered the state to update this registry.

This update was made after complying with the rules under the Assam Accord. The Assam Accord seemed to have finally fallen into place with the implementation of the National Registry of Citizens. Nonetheless, mayhem broke out when those people demanding the ousting of illegal immigrants found their names missing from the list of registered citizens.    

Clash between Government and public

Following the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, the left-winged liberals protested vehemently, claiming that the ideals of this Act were on the contrary to what the Indian Constitution stood for. Additionally, following the Act, natural anticipation is the nationwide implementation of the National Registry of Citizens.

One of the reasons behind this radical uproar lies in the assumption that the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, coupled with National Registry of Citizens, could have the fatal repercussion of leaving millions of Indians without citizenship. It said that this result is inevitable because of the fact that citizenship is dependent on certain approved documents, which are not available with each and every person.

Nonetheless, even if these documents were produced, the official checking them could use their own discretion and render them inadmissible. However, the government has repeatedly guaranteed that common documents would be accepted. There are additional communal reasons behind the many objections that come to the forefront.

It has been reiterated by many that the combination of NRC along with the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 dishevels the very secular fabric of the country. That is, it has been repeatedly exclaimed that a nation should not regulate its population on the basis of religion.

Further, it was noticed that the current government had resorted to the act of pandering to the vote banks.  To elucidate, it was found that the Citizenship Act of 1955 had prohibited illegal immigrants from gaining citizenship. This prohibition was not made to any specific religious community.

However, the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 ensures that the religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are granted citizenship. This, according to many is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt in turning India into a “Hindu Rashtra”. The government’s response to this has been rather interesting. They have claimed that Muslims in the above-mentioned countries are not subjected to any form of religious persecution.

 The Delhi government further added that the National Registry of Citizens, which was carried out in furtherance with the Supreme Court’s directions in 2013, was fair and not tainted with any religious biases. The government has claimed that the ongoing agitation is stemming out of baseless fear and that no Indian would be expelled through the drafting of a nation-wide National Registry of Citizens.

They have also mentioned that it was a misconception that only non-Muslims were given the opportunity to obtain citizenship through naturalisation.

To add, it has been stated that even non-muslims excluded in the National Registry of Citizens would not be able to gain citizenship through the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 unless they could prove that they migrated from one of the three countries mentioned in the Act, and it has been iterated that falsely presenting oneself as a citizen of these three countries would prove to be fruitless and ineffective.

Further, many proponents of this Act have insisted on turning down all claims about the Act being Anti-Muslim. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had attempted to dismiss the misinformation revolving around the said Act. He lamented that similar proposals of the formation of NRC were made by the UPA government earlier.  

Conclusion

All in all, the issue of the National Registry of Citizens has stirred up a lot of controversy. Certain aspects of the amended Act in 2019 led to widespread protests. These protests developed into a massive violent assemblage. According to many, the whole Act seems to have the agenda of excluding the Muslim community.

However, the Act seemed to only concern itself with the inclusion of helpless, persecuted minorities of India’s neighbouring countries. Additionally, the nation-wide drafting of NRC has not begun yet. It would be interesting to see how the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 and National Registry of Citizens would complement each other. 

Author: Vaishnavi Kokkonda from NALSAR, Hyderabad.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Analysis: Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

Reading time: 6-7 minutes.

The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. The Bill was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee which submitted its report in January this year. The Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha.

The Bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 with regard to two categories of persons- illegal migrants and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card-holders.

How can Indian Citizenship be acquired? Who are Overseas Citizens of India?

Under the Citizenship Act, a person can acquire Indian citizenship by being born in the country or by being born to Indian parents or by residing in the country over a period of time (i.e. by naturalization). The Act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring citizenship. An illegal migrant is a foreigner who either enters the country without valid travel documents like Passport or enters with valid documents but stays in India beyond the permitted period of time. Illegal migrants are liable to be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.

Overseas Citizens of India, in simple terms, are foreigners who are persons of Indian origin or who are spouses of persons of Indian origin. Compared to others foreigners, OCI enjoy various benefits like right to travel to India without a visa and to work or study in the country. Under the Citizenship Act, 1955 the central government may cancel OCI registration on various grounds and in case of cancellation, an OCI residing in India may be required to leave the country.

What are the Salient features of the Citizenship Bill?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to provide citizenship to those Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who fled to India before 31st December, 2014 because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries. These people were treated as illegal migrants by the Citizenship Act, 1955.  

The Bill also relaxes the minimum years of residence required for obtaining citizenship through naturalization from 11 years to 6 years for immigrants of these six religious communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

With respect to OCI card-holders, the Bill introduces an additional ground on which the government can cancel the registration of OCI card-holders viz. violation by OCI of any law of the land. Earlier, their registration could be cancelled only if, within five years of registration, the cardholder was sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more for violation of any law. The effect of the amendment would be that the registration of an OCI card-holder will get cancelled if he breaks any law of the land, irrespective of whether it is a major or minor violation, and even if he has stayed in India for more than five years after registration.

What are reasons behind the introduction of this Amendment Bill?

The main reason for this amendment was the atrocities that the six religious communities faced in the three neighbouring country, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which forced them to migrate to India. The Citizenship Act, 1955 treated them as illegal migrants and denied citizenship. It was in order to alleviate their plight that these amendments were proposed.

In September, 2015 and in July, 2016 the Central Government issued two notifications by which illegal migrants belonging to six religious minority communities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who had migrated to India on or before December 31, 2014 were exempted from the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.This implies that these illegal migrants cannot be imprisoned or deported for not having valid papers.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 seeks to grant further benefits to these migrants by making them eligible for citizenship.

What are the criticisms against the Bill?

The Bill has been staunchly opposed by the North-Eastern states. It is argued that continuous migration from surrounding areas has increased the population of the North-East in such a way that the average size of land holding in the region is only about one hectare. While the population of ‘India of 1901’ (which comprises of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) increased by about 5.4 times between 1901 and 2011, the population of North-East increased by more than ten times during the same period.

The opponents of the Bill also stress that Assam cannot accommodate any more immigrants and that the Bill goes against the 1985 Assam Accord signed between the Rajeev Gandhi government and leaders of the Assam movement spear headed by the All Assam Students Union (AASU). Under the Accord, any person who came to Assam after midnight of March24, 1971, were to be identified as a foreigner. Opponents in Assam also argue that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which would declare those who had entered Assam illegally after 25 March 1971 as foreigners will also be nullified by the Bill.

Another major criticism against the Bill is that by limiting accelerated citizenship to non-Muslims it tends to be discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality to citizens as well as foreigners. Article 14 requires that a law can be justified of treating persons differently only if there is a reasonable rationale for doing so. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Citizenship Bill does not provide any such rationale for restricting its benefits to only six religious communities. As the Rohingya crisis may have highlighted, even Muslims are fleeing persecution from neighbouring countries. Unfortunately they will not be eligible for Indian citizenship under the Bill. It is clear that the differentiation between illegal migrants on the basis of religion does not meet the Article 14 standards of equality protection.

The proposed change regarding Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card-holders has also evoked criticism. Making their registration liable to be cancelled for violation of any law of the land, irrespective of the gravity of violation, leads to a situation wherein OCI registration can be cancelled for even minor offences like parking in a no parking zone or jumping a red light. The amendment is worrying given that the consequence of cancellation of registration is drastic as the person would be required to leave the country.

The North-eastern states have been marred by two waves of protest for some time now – protest in support of the Bill and protests against the Bill. During and after the visit of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to Assam and Meghalaya to collect feedback regarding the Bill, the Brahmaputra Valley saw protest opposing the Bill while the Barak Valley saw counter-protests in support of the Bill. In Guwahati, 135 groups submitted memorandums objecting the Bill and one of the memorandums was even signed in blood.

Union Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah has tried to pacify the protestors by assuring that the people of North-East had nothing to fear from the Bill and that it will not dilute Article 371 of the Constitution which grants autonomy to the North-Eastern states. He also assured them that the Bill will not affect any rights of the indigenous people nor will it affect the requirement of Inner-Line Permit that any visitor to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland has to possess for temporary stay in these places. Mr. Shah also pointed out that the proposed Bill had December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date and that no illegal immigrant arriving after this date would be granted citizenship.

Probable future…

The Bill would have both positive and negative consequences. The positive consequence is that the people of minority religious communities of the three neighbouring countries who flee to India from persecution can be assured of safety and peace. They would be treated as Indian citizens and would get food, livelihood, shelter and most-importantly, identity.

The negative effect of the Bill would be faced by the people of North-east as increase in population due to illegal immigrants would put stress on the scarce resources of the states. Moreover, there is a deep fear that the indigenous people of the states would become a minority if more outside people come and settle there. There is also apprehension of ethnic violence, which will hinder progress of the states.

A solution for alleviating the negative impact of the Bill on the North-eastern states is to shift the immigrants to other state also so as to ease the pressure on the resources of the North-East.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Rishabh Dixit from New Law College, Pune.