Citizenship Amendment Act

Citizenship Amendment Act

News: The government announced the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act rules, four years after the bill was passed in Parliament.

• Citizenship laws in India are governed by the Citizenship Act of 1955, which outlines provisions for acquisition through various means such as birth, descent, registration, naturalization, or territorial incorporation.
• It is crucial to note that individuals who enter the country illegally, without proper documentation, or by overstaying their visa are not eligible for citizenship and may face legal consequences under acts such as the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport Act of 1920.
• In a specific context, certain groups of illegal migrants, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who arrived before December 31, 2014, were granted exemption from deportation during the 2015-2016 period. 
• The Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2016 aimed to extend citizenship to these migrants, but it lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha

What is CAA?
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) provides a pathway to citizenship based on religion for six specific nonMuslim communities (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians) originating from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. It grants these communities exemption from legal ramifications under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport Act of 1920, which address issues such as illegal entry and overstaying on expired visas and permits.

Eligibility Criteria: Candidates should be individuals hailing from persecuted minority groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India prior to December 31, 2014.
Application Procedure: Interested applicants must utilize the designated online platform facilitated by the Ministry of Home Affairs, furnishing requisite documents and details.
Documentation Submission: Submission of essential documents such as proof of identity, residence, and eligibility pertaining to the specified minority communities is mandatory.
Affirmation of Allegiance: Successful applicants are required to solemnly pledge allegiance to the Indian Constitution.
Evaluation by Empowered Committee: A thorough assessment of applications will be conducted by an empowered committee to ascertain eligibility.
Digital Certification: Upon approval, eligible candidates shall be granted a digital certificate of citizenship or naturalization.
Physical Certificate Issuance: Those opting for a physical certificate may request one, to be collected from the office of the Empowered Committee upon approval.

Key Features:
• Religious-Based Citizenship: 
• The legislation introduces a novel provision by granting citizenship based on religious affiliation, particularly targeting non-Muslim communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. 
• Eligibility for citizenship extends to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities from the specified countries. However, other communities are excluded from this provision.

• The citizenship provisions for undocumented migrants do not extend to areas protected by the ‘Inner Line’ permit system and regions governed by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Acquisition of Citizenship through Naturalization:
• The Citizenship Act of 1955 mandates a residency period of 12 months immediately preceding the application and 11 out of the previous 14 years for naturalization. 
• The amendment reduces the residency requirement from 11 years to 5 years for applicants belonging to the specified six religions from the mentioned countries.
Revocation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Status:
• The legislation empowers the government to revoke Overseas Citizen of India registration for breaches of the Citizenship Act or other relevant laws.
• The Supreme Court has underscored the importance of delineating the scope of laws concerning OCI registration revocation to ensure the limitation of governmental authority and prevent arbitrary actions.

Need of the Act:
Advocating for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA):
Challenges Faced by Minority Communities: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, being Islamic republics, often subject minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians to discrimination and persecution.
Humanitarian Aim of the CAA: The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) seeks to offer sanctuary to those who have fled to India in search of safety from religious persecution.
Historical Context: India historical commitment to safeguarding minorities escaping persecution in neighboring nations is evidenced by significant occurrences like the Partition of British India in 1947 and the signing of the Indira-Mujib Pact in 1972. (The pact facilitated the repatriation and integration of over 1.2 million refugees, predominantly Hindus, who sought asylum in India during the Bangladesh Liberation 
Streamlining Procedures: The legislation streamlines the process for acquiring citizenship by naturalization, reducing the residency requirement from 12 years to 7 years.

Concerns Surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA):
Community Targeting: Critics express concerns that the CAA, in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), may appear to favor non-Muslims, potentially placing the burden of proving citizenship on excluded Muslims, thereby raising fears of religious discrimination.
Northeastern Issues: The Act contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, which opposed illegal immigrants from all regions, prompting worries about its impact on Assam demographic balance and resources due to the settlement of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
Violation of Fundamental Rights: Opponents argue that the Act contravenes Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality, by exhibiting discriminatory behavior based on religion.
Discriminatory Nature: Critics point out that the Act excludes refugees such as Tamil Sri Lankans and Hindu Rohingyas, leading to allegations of religious-based discrimination.
Exclusion of Certain Minorities: Critics suggest that if the legislation intends to safeguard minorities, it should encompass persecuted Muslim groups like Ahmadis in Pakistan and Rohingyas in Myanmar.
Administrative Challenges: Distinguishing between illegal migrants and persecuted individuals presents administrative hurdles.
Impact on Bilateral Relations: The Act focus on religious oppression in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh may strain diplomatic ties.
Interrelation with NRC: The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is closely tied to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as it seeks to safeguard non-Muslims excluded from the register, enabling them to acquire citizenship.
• For example, Bengali Hindu migrants excluded from the NRC in Assam could potentially obtain citizenship. In the event of nationwide NRC implementation, excluded individuals would be categorized into Muslims deemed illegal migrants and others protected by the CAB if they hail from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. This confluence of the NRC and CAB could significantly redefine citizenship rights in India.

Way Forward:
• India efforts to safeguard persecuted minorities in its vicinity are praiseworthy, but they must adhere to constitutional tenets. 
• The transparency in the formulation of rules pertaining to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is paramount to address apprehensions. 
• The Supreme Court holds the responsibility of guaranteeing equitable processes and scrutinizing the potential arbitrariness or discrimination inherent in the religious criterion for citizenship.
• It should also evaluate whether the exclusion of long-standing refugees infringes upon their constitutional entitlements and influences India secular ethos.

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