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Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

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Inspiration Study Circle, Dehradun Explained- The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

Citizenship is a legal status and relationship between an individual and a state that entails certain rights and duties. Citizenship in India is listed in the Union List under the Constitution and is therefore under the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament. The Constitution of India, dated January 26, 1950, established the categories of persons eligible for Indian citizenship. It also empowered Parliament to regulate additional aspects of citizenship, such as grant and relinquishment. Under this authority, Parliament enacted the Citizenship Act, of 1955.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act, of 1955 by providing a fast track to Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. As of 2014 in India. Eligible minorities were Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian. The law does not grant such eligibility to Muslims in these countries. The act was the first time when religion was explicitly used as a criterion of citizenship under Indian law and drew global criticism.

Under the 2019 amendment, migrants who entered India by 31 December 2014, and suffered “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin, were made eligible for fast-track citizenship. The amendment relaxed the residency requirement for the naturalization of these immigrants from 12 years to six years. As per the Intelligence Bureau records, there would be just over 30,000 immediate beneficiaries of this law.

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Background of the Citizenship Law

The Indian Constitution enacted in 1950 guaranteed citizenship to all residents of the country at the time of its inception and did not discriminate based on religion. In 1955, the Government of India passed the Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all people born in India subject to certain limitations. The act also provides two means for foreigners to acquire Indian citizenship. People from “Undivided India” were given the means of registration after seven years of residence in India. People from other countries were given the means of naturalization after twelve years of residence in India.

The Amendments since its inception:

  1. Political developments in the 1980s, particularly related to the violent Assam movement against migrants from Bangladesh, led to amendments to the Citizenship Act.
  2. The act was first amended in 1985 after the Assam Accord signed by the Rajiv Gandhi government, which granted citizenship to all Bangladeshi migrants who arrived before 1971, subject to certain provisions.
  3. The government also agreed to identify all migrants who arrived later, remove their names from the electoral roll, and expel them from the country.
  4. The Citizenship Act was further amended in 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015, 2016, and 2018.

The 2003 Amendment

  1. In December 2003, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 with far-reaching amendments.
  2. It added the concept of “illegal immigrants” to the law, made them ineligible to apply for citizenship (through registration or naturalization), and declared their children as illegal immigrants.
  3. Illegal immigrants were defined as citizens of other countries who entered India without valid travel documents, or who stayed in the country beyond the period allowed by their travel documents. They can be deported or imprisoned.
  4. The 2003 amendment also mandated the Government of India to create and maintain a National Register of Citizens. The bill was supported by the Indian National Congress and the Left parties.

Amendment of 2015

The Parliament of India passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in 2015. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 4 March and earlier by the Lok Sabha on 2 March 2015. The Bill replaced the Ordinance issued in this regard and amended the Citizenship Act of 1955. The key provisions were:

  1. The Bill merged the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) schemes.
  2. It also added that the central government may notify that Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cardholders would be treated as foreign citizen cardholders of India.
  3. It also gave a 30-day break to a person applying for Indian citizenship if they leave India for a short period.
  4. It empowered the Central Government to cancel the OCI card obtained by the spouse of an Indian citizen if the marriage is dissolved by a court or if the spouse entered a second marriage even if the first marriage has not been dissolved.

Key features of the Amendment of 2019

The Citizenship Amendment Act in India is derived from their original constitution under Articles 5-11 and the Citizenship Act 1955. The Act provides for citizenship by birth, descent, registration, and naturalization. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship.

CAA Rules 2024: Application for citizenship under the CAA is governed by Section 6B of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Applicants are required to prove their country of origin, religion, date of entry into India, and knowledge of the Indian language to be eligible. Indian citizenship.

Proof of Country of Origin: Relaxed requirements allow a variety of documents including birth or educational certificates, identity documents, licenses, land records, or any document proving previous citizenship of specified countries.

Date of entry into India: Applicants can provide up to 20 different documents as proof of entry into India, including visas, residence permits, census slips, driving licenses, Aadhaar cards, ration cards, government or court letters, birth certificates, and more.

Illegal Immigrants: An illegal immigrant who enters India without valid travel documents or overstays the permitted time, potentially faces prosecution, deportation, or imprisonment.

  • Those from these communities who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, will not be treated as illegal immigrants, providing a pathway to naturalization. However, it exempts the Muslim community.

Relaxation: The amendment relaxed the residency requirement from 11 years to 6 years for these communities to acquire Indian citizenship through naturalization.

It exempts members of these communities from prosecution under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport Act of 1920.

Applicants are exempt from being considered “illegal immigrants”.

Exceptions:

  • The amendments for illegal migrants will not apply to certain tribal areas (under the Sixth Schedule) of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura as well as to states governed by “inner line” permits under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873.
  • The CAA will not apply to the territories specified under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which includes the tribal areas of the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  • Additionally, areas covered by the Inner Line Permit System (ILP) are also exempted from the CAA. The concept of an internal line separates the tribal-majority hills of the northeast from the plains. To enter and stay in these areas, an Inner Line Permit (ILP) is required. Currently, Inner Line Permits regulate the visit of all persons, including Indian citizens, to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
  • The purpose of this exclusion is to protect the interests of tribals and tribal communities in the North-Eastern region, so that persons residing in these areas cannot acquire citizenship under the provisions of the CAA, 2019.

Consequences of acquisition of citizenship: It states that on acquisition of citizenship:

  1. Such persons shall be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and
  2. All legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship shall cease.

Reasons for cancellation of OCI registration: The 1955 Act allows the Central Government to cancel OCI registration on various grounds, adding a new ground for cancellation if the OCI violates the legislation proposed by the Government.

Process of Implementation of Citizenship

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has delegated the task of processing citizenship applications under the CAA to the Department of Posts and Census officials under the Central Government.
  • Background and security checks will be conducted by central security agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
  • Final decisions on applications will be taken by empowered committees headed by the Director (Census Operations) in each state.
  • These committees will include officials from various departments including the Intelligence Bureau, Post Master General, State or National Informatics Center, and representatives of the Home Department and Divisional Railway Managers of the State Government.
  • District-level committees headed by the Superintendent of Posts will scrutinize the applications along with a representative of the District Collector’s office as invitees.
  • Processing of Applications: Empowered Committees and District Level Committees (DLCs), set up by the Centre, will process citizenship applications, bypassing state control.
  • The DLC will receive applications, and the final decision will be taken by an empowered committee headed by the Director (Census Operations).

Way Forward and Future Responses

  1. India needs to develop a more inclusive refugee policy in line with the UN Refugee Convention that does not discriminate based on religion, ethnicity, or any other arbitrary criteria.
  2. Also, ensuring that citizenship laws prioritize the principles of equality and non-discrimination, providing equal opportunities for all individuals regardless of their background.
  3. Implement measures to help individuals, especially marginalized communities, obtain the necessary documents to prove their citizenship status.
  4. Provide support services and resources to help individuals navigate the citizenship verification process, thereby reducing the risk of statelessness.
  5. Facilitate meaningful dialogue and consultation with civil society organizations, religious leaders, and communities against the CAA to address grievances and concerns related to the CAA.
  6. Engaging with neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, to address concerns related to religious persecution and human rights violations.
  7. India should also work towards regional cooperation and diplomatic initiatives aimed at promoting religious freedom and tolerance.
  8. Conducting educational and awareness campaigns to disseminate accurate information about citizenship law and dispel misinformation or misconceptions.
  9. To promote public understanding of the principles of equality, secularism, and inclusiveness enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
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