Legislation not against any minority, but against illegal immigrants: : Home minister
GN Bureau | December 10, 2019
After a day-long debate which often turned acrimonious, the Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, seeking to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries who have migrated to India.
Prime minister Narendra Modi said he was “delighted” after the house voted on the bill a little after midnight Monday.
The Bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have migrated to India after facing persecution on grounds of religion in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, if they fulfil conditions for grant of citizenship.
During the debate, the opposition alleged that the bill was regressive. Trinamul Congress termed the bill unconstitutional and divisive. CPM also claimed it was aimed to establish racial supremacy in India. Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen even torn a copy of the bill, saying that this government hated Muslims. The bill was passed with 311 members in favour and 80 against.
Introducing the bill, home minister Amit Shah said that while nowhere does this bill target India’s minority community, illegal immigrants would not be allowed to stay in the country at any cost.
Replying to the debate, he said that misconceptions were being spread that the bill was against any particular community, but this is a humanitarian step to grant citizenship to those who suffered for the last 70 years. He said that failure of the Nehru-Liaqat pact of 1950 is also one of the reasons of bringing about this bill. He further said that it was Congress which accepted the partition of India on religious ground and therefore the need for the bill was necessitated.
Manish Tewari of the Congress, however, said that the ‘two-nation theory’ which led to the partition had its foundations in the ideology of V.D. Savarkar. The Congress, moreover, did not accept the religious basis of the partition and India chose to remain a secular country.
The home minister asked the members to distinguish between the genuine refuges and the intruders, and added that the Narendra Modi government is committed to security and all equal rights to all and there would be no discrimination based on the religion.
As the bill had triggered protests in the Northeast, Shah clarified that the provisions of the amendments to the Act would not apply to the 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.
The bill also seeks to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to the said communities from the three countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation if they can establish their residency in India for five years instead of the existing eleven years. Making an important announcement, Shah said that Manipur would be brought under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime and with that the problems of all the Northeastern states would be taken care of. He said, all the apprehensions of the Northeastern states and that of Sikkim were addressed in the bill and that is the reason they are supporting this bill.
Shah claimed there was no political agenda behind the bill but it was only a Constitutional process to give citizenship to those who were denied basic civil rights for the last 70 years. He cited the provisions from Constitutions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh where they provide for a specific state religion. In this scenario, Shah stated that these countries have had a history of persecution of religious minorities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practise, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.
Reassuring such persons against any harassment, Shah said that a person who makes an application for citizenship would not be disqualified for making the application on the ground that a proceeding is pending against him/her and the application would not be rejected on that ground, if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship. Further, the person who makes an application for citizenship would not be deprived of his/her rights and privileges to which he/she was entitled on the date of receipt of his application.
The home minister said that this bill contains provisions to grant citizenship to such refugees on reasonable grounds, which in no way go against any provision under the Constitution of India and does not violate Article 14. He also reassured that no provision of Article 371 would be violated by this bill. The linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of the Northeast would be preserved and this bill contains the solution to the problems of the people of these states, as the provisions of the amendment have been incorporated after marathon deliberations with various stakeholders from the Northeast for last one month. The issue should be seen as a humanitarian one, beyond political ideologies.
Talking about the Right to Equality, Shah said that Article 14 allows reasonable qualifications to its provisions and there have been instances in the past when refugees facing persecution in other countries have been granted Indian citizenship. Giving example of refugees coming from Bangladesh in 1971, he said that the government of that time gave citizenship to these refugees. The home minister said that the inflow of refugees have not stopped after that. Refugees from Uganda were also given citizenship and same steps were taken during Sri Lankan crisis and after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. These decisions were based on reasonable qualifications to Article 14, he added.
Talking about another amendment to the Act, Shah said the bill seeks to amend section 7D so as to empower the central government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder, after providing a reasonable opportunity of being heard, in case of violation of any provisions of the Citizenship Act or any other law for the time being in force.
The home minister said that there is no merit in the questions raised by members on the competency of Parliament to discuss this bill on the ground that it is against the basic structure and ethos of the Constitution. “I want to assure the nation that this bill is not against any provision of the Constitution of India,” he said.
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