The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Amendment Act) has been recently passed by both Houses of Parliament and has also received Presidential assent on 12-12-2019. It aims at granting Indian Citizenship to persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have migrated to India after facing mistreatment on the ground of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
As per the Citizenship Act 1955, citizenship is acquired in India, either by birth in India, or by descent, or through registration, or by naturalisation (extended residence in India), or by incorporation of a territory into India. Based on the given criteria for each type of citizenship, the Amendment Act aims at providing citizenship by registration or by naturalization to such refugees and exiles who have fled from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to India, seeking refuge of the Government of India so that they are able to lead a dignified life.
The following criteria laid down under the Amendment Act would be considered by the Central Government before granting citizenship to such refugees/illegal migrants residing in India:
1- The person has entered into the territory of India on or before 31-12-2014, or
2- The person has been exempted by the Central Government by or under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or any rule or order made thereunder, or
3- The person has been exempted by the Central Government from the application of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, or
4- The person has resided in India or has been in Central Government service for the last 12 months and at least 5 years of the preceding 14 years,
5- The person meets other criteria for grant of citizenship by registration or by naturalization laid down under the Citizenship Act 1955 as amended in 2019.
In the event that the refugees satisfy the aforesaid criteria, all the cases and legal proceedings pending against them in India would stand abated, and such refugees would no longer be treated as illegal migrants in India.
But the Act further states that it would not apply to certain areas as listed in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India 1950 as amended thereof, including the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura, and also areas including Manipur that come under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
Further, the Union Minister for Home Affairs, Shri Amit Shah, has reportedly stated that this move would resolve the issues of North Eastern people, and 6 (six) minority communities who had faced abuse and exploitation on the ground of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and thus, had migrated to India. He further added that the reason for not including Muslim community under the said Amendment Act is that Muslim communities do not face religious persecution in these Islamic countries and besides, the Government of India, in the past 5 years, has already granted citizenship to more than 560 Muslims coming from these three countries.
However, various experts believe that the Act provides differential treatment to refugees on the basis of their country of origin, religion, date of entry into India, and place of residence in India. But the Act has failed to take into consideration other religious minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh such as Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, who are considered non-Muslims in that country, and atheists in those three countries, who had migrated to India on the ground of religious persecution.
In response to all such criticisms, Shri Amit Shah reportedly stated that the Amendment Act has been introduced with the sole object of rectifying the mistake of partition of India that happened years ago on religious grounds and for protecting the interests of the refugees/illegal migrants in India.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer