New Delhi: Changes in criteria qualifying a person as citizenship of India has been on Centres priority on various occasions that began 64 years ago when Citizenship Act, 1955 was passed, and it went through six periodic amendments with the recent Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 that faces violent demonstrations across India.
The conferment of a person, as a citizen of India, is governed by Articles 5 to 11 (Part II) of the Constitution of India. The legislation related to this matter is the Citizenship Act 1955, which has been amended by the Citizenship (Amendment) Acts of 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2016 and 2019.
The contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, an amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955, aims to fast-track citizenship for six persecuted minority communities — Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians — who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014 from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Act came into force on January 10 when the Ministry of Home Affairs made the announcement through a gazette notification — almost a month after it was passed by Parliament on December 11, 2019 during the winter session — which triggered widespread violent demonstrations in the Northeastern state of Assam as protesters feared it would convert thousands of illegal migrants from neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh into legal residents.
The Act got President Ram Nath Kovind”s assent on December 12.
There has been disapproval on may grounds by political parties as well as some certain groups of people on every occasion whenever the Central government carved deep into the basic legal fabric of the principal Citizenship Act, 1955 to change the criteria qualifying a person as a citizen of India.
At the first hearing on petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the Supreme Court declined to stay the contentious law but asked the Centre to file its reply against the petitions that say it violates the Constitution.
The petitioners say the Act discriminates against Muslims and violates the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. The petitions against the Act are listed for hearing on January 22.
What is Citizenship Act, 1955?
The Act regulates that a person may become an Indian citizen if he is born in India or has Indian parentage or has resided in the country over a period of time. However, illegal migrants are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.
An illegal migrant is a foreigner who:
(i) enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa, or
(ii) enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period.
Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. The 1946 and the 1920 Acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within India.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 1986
As per the law amendment, it is no longer adequate to be born in India to be granted Indian citizenship. At the time of birth either one of the parents has to be an Indian citizen for the person to become a citizen of India.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 1992
The Act provides that a person born after January 26, 1950 but before the commencement of the Act shall be a citizen of India if the father is Indian at the time of birth; after the commencement of the Act, the person shall be Indian if either of the parents is Indian. Also replaces references to “male persons” with “persons”.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003
The Act was passed by the Parliament in December 2003, and received presidential assent in January 2004. It is labelled “Act 6 of 2004”. The Act amended The Citizenship Act, 1955 by introducing and defining a notion of “illegal migrant”, who could be jailed or deported.
Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016
In 2015 and 2016, the central government issued two notifications exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
These groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014.
This implies that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. It seeks to make illegal migrants belonging to the same six religions and three countries eligible for citizenship.