Citizen Amendment Bill 2016: Vital Changes Of Act

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was presented in Lok Sabha by Home Affairs Ministry. The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.
The bill raised a problem of biased citizenship due to its contentious provisions.

BACKGROUND:

  • The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides numerous ways in which citizenship is also non-inheritable. It also provides the citizenship by birth, descent, registration & by the merger of a territory into India. 
  • The Act forbids illegal immigrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. It defines an illegal refugee as a foreigner: (i) who lands to India without a legal passport or travel documents, or (ii) stays beyond the permitted time. 
  • To apply for nationality by naturalisation, a person must have resided in India or been in service of the central government for at least 11 years before applying for citizenship. 
  • The Act provides that the central government may terminate the registration of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) on certain grounds. These consists of (i) if the OCI has registered through fraud, or (ii) within five years of registration has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more, or (iii) it becomes necessary in the interest of sovereignty and security of India, etc. 

VITAL CHANGES OF THE ACT:

  • The Bill amends the Act to provide that the following groups of persons will not be treated as illegal migrants: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis & Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 
  • The Bill creates an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with regard to nationality qualification. The 11 years’ condition will be reduced to six years. 
  • The Bill increases one more ground for cancelling the registration, that is, if the OCI has dishonoured any law that is existing in the country. 

DISPUTES AGAINST THE BILL:-

The issue was raised by opposition members that the modifications seek to give the granting of citizenship a communal angle.

GOVERNMENT STAND ON THE ISSUE:-

  • In Pakistan, Bangladesh & Afghanistan, religious minorities face severe discrimination that is often state authorised and even institutionalised, especially in Pakistan. 
  • These communities have meagre representation in government jobs, police, military or judiciary. 
  • Women face major brunt, sometimes stalked, molested and raped with no reprieve from the state due to poor laws and apathy from the state. 
  • Their areas of residence are targeted during riots, bombings, terrorist attacks etc. 
  • Several refugees living across the country have been victimised and were forced upon to convert, before fleeing to India. 

WAY AHEAD:

  • India is the most successful emerging economy and is attractive for migrants crossing the border into India in search of work and a better life. 
  • India is a secular nation and should maintain the status. The modifications should be forwarded to a select parliamentary committee for discussion and then arrive at a common agreement after taking all stakeholders in confidence.
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