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Editorials Today – Citizenship Law Of India – Recent Amendments


Citizenship Law Of India

[1] The Citizenship Act 1955

ways of Acquiring Citizenship – by Birth,descent,registration,naturalization
The Citizenship (Amendment ) Act 2015 – Merger of OCI and POI
The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 – Trying to solve the illegal migrant issue
– Positives
– Limitations
– Suggestions

[2] After independence-

  •  Constitution of India did not codify permanent laws for citizenship and put this onus on    parliament.
  • Using the powers of article 10 and 11, the parliament enacted Citizenship Act 1955 which  has been amended from time to time.

[3] The Citizenship Act 1955

Citizenship Act (1955) provides for acquisition and loss of citizenship after the commencement of the constitution. This Act has been amended so far in year 1986,1992,2003,2005 and 2015.

[4] The Act mentions ways in which a person may be Indian citizen –

1.Citizenship by Birth- Earlier citizenship was granted by the virtue of birth , then if any one parent is citizen of India. Later by further amendment , it was necessary that both parents are Indians or one of them is not an illegal migrant. This provision is not for foreign diplomats in India.
2.Citizenship By Descent – Till 1992, a person whose is born outside India and had an Indian father , was eligible for citizenship by descent.
December 2004 onwards, a person is considered an Indian citizen if his/her birth is registered within one year.
3.Citizenship by Registration- This is available for person of Indian descent, woman married to indian citizens etc.
4.Citizenship by Naturalization- Available for a foreign citizen who has not been able to acquire citizenship by above methods.Eligibility criterias include knowing an indian official language or being of good character etc

Further, Government of India can waive any or all of conditions if a person has rendered distinguished service in the cause of Philosophy, science, literature, arts, world peace etc.
Citizenship by incorporating a new territory If a new territory becomes a part of India, the government of India specifies the persons of that territory who shall be citizens of India

[5] A person can lose nationality by

Renunciation – A citizen of india renounces his citizenship by declaration
Termination – A citizen of india has voluntarily acquired citizenship of another country
Deprivation – Those citizens who have acquired citizenship can be deprived by the government

Recent Changes 

[1] Citizenship (Amendment )Act 2015

● Merger of Overseas Citizen of India and Persons of Indian Origin schemes: Persons of Indian Origin enjoy fewer benefits than Overseas Citizens of India. For example, they are entitled to visa free entry into India for 15 years, while Overseas Citizens of India are provided a multiple entry, life-long visa.
● Bill also introduces a new provision which allows the central government to register a person as an Overseas Citizen of India cardholder even if s/he does not satisfy any of the listed qualifications.This is permissible if special circumstances exist.
● Renunciation and cancellation of overseas citizenship: The Act provides that where a person renounces their overseas citizenship, their minor child shall also cease to be an Overseas Citizen of India. The Bill extends this provision to cover spouses of Overseas Citizen of India cardholders where they have divorced or married another person.

[2] Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016

The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 and is presently being examined by a joint parliamentary panel.

● The Bill seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
● Under 1955 Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The 2016 Bill relaxes this 11 year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the mentioned religions and countries.
● The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.

Positives –

● Bill recognises and protects the rights of refugees
● Bill, when passed, would be of immense benefit to the Chakmas and Hajongs of Bangladesh displaced because of the construction of the Kaptai Dam who have been refugees for nearly 65 years.
● Most of the persecuted minorities in Pakistan , Bangladesh and Afghanistan are of the mentioned religions.
● Considering that more populated countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh are primarily muslim countries, putting islam in the list may lead to influx of people.

Limitations of the proposed bill –

● The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
● The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (eg. parking in a no parking zone).
● The bill covers minorities only from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
● Due to inclusion of Bangladesh there is resentment among many people of Assam as the cut off date for citizenship will be increased to December 31,2014 from March 25,1971 which was added after Assam Accord of 1985 as section 6A in Citizenship Act 1955. .
● The Bill does not take note of the refugees in India from among the Muslim community who have fled due to persecution
● It does not provide citizenship to the people of Indian origin from Sri Lanka who fled to Tamil Nadu as refugees
● Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas also face persecution in Sunni-dominated Pakistan but the Act doesn’t have provision for them.
● It can pose as a security threat , How do we decide if the applicant was actually under threat in his homeland .

Suggestion –

● It would have been appropriate if the Bill had used the term “persecuted minorities” instead of listing out non-Muslim minorities in three countries.
● Though the bill takes a positive step towards addressing an issue pending over decades but , there is a need to standardize what amounts to religious persecution .
● Caution is needed to differentiate between genuine migrants and migrants coming in search of better prospects.
● Some other standard rather than religion of the migrants could have been devised. Eg- those contributing positively to the economy , not been persecuted under major violation of law etc.

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