The Citizenship Act grants citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalization and incorporation of territory under the Citizenship Act, 1955. It has been amended seven times in the past spanning from the 1957 to 2015. It was recently amended again in 2019 garnering quite a contentious response.
As per the 2019 Amendment, the definition of ‘illegal immigrants’ as posed under Section 2(1)(b) of the Act is no longer applicable to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians.
It provides for special provisions for grant of certificate of registration or naturalization to such immigrants where the conditions under Section 5 and the third Schedule have been complied with, from the date of their entry into India.
The new law incorporates the cancellation of registration of Overseas Citizens of India Cardholders in events of violation of any provisions of the law, with the provision that any such person shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard.
Meanwhile, the Third Schedule stands amended yet again, relaxing the earlier requirement of eleven years of residence or service to five years for such immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 relaxes the provisions of the Citizenship Act, the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 for the immigrants deemed as persecuted minority religious groups in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, three specific religion states.
Due to the lack of identity proof, such immigrants face penal action and cannot apply for registration under Section 5. The eleven- year requirement for naturalization under Section 6 and the Third Schedule was another hurdle for such immigrants who were likely to reside in India permanently.
The Act is also a reassurance of the constitutional protection provided by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India to the North Eastern States and the statutory protection given to areas covered under “The Inner Line” system of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
The new amendment act has faced much contention as it seems to be in contravention of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Article 14 posits “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” The current law is said to discriminate between the Muslim and Non-Muslim immigrants.
‘Equality before law’ requires the State to treat every class of persons without discrimination, whereas ‘Equal Protection of the Law’ guarantees that the State would not frame laws or provisions which would be discriminatory between two classes.
Whereas the new amendment poses a lot of political dilemmas as to the secular nature of India, discrimination against Muslim Refugees, nation-wide enforcement of NRC and the current status of illegal immigrants in Assam; one can also question the legal validity of the new amendment.
Where the old act made a clear distinction between a foreigner and an illegal immigrant, the new act in many ways blurs these lines, giving rise to the question if religion can be taken as a reasonable classification in determining status of an immigrant, and would it not be ultra vires Article 15 of the Constitution.
At the same time, the new act relaxes many existing provisions as a helping hand for the immigrants, albeit of a specific religious class. From that light, there is much scope for improvement. With the increasing number of immigrants pouring into India facing a similar plight, from other specific religion states, and the objective of the amendment act being that of protection, it should provide that shade to all and not just a few.
The article has been written by Roshni Bhatia
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