Citizenship Amendment Bill,2019 : A Brief Description

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

The Union Cabinet approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is now expected to be tabled in Parliament. The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to six undocumented non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who came to India on or before December 31, 2014. In other words, the Bill intends to make it easier for non-Muslim immigrants from India's three Muslim-majority neighbors to become citizens of India.

The Bill was tabled in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, and was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on August 12, 2016. The Committee submitted its report on January 7, 2019, and, the following day (January 8, 2019), the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha.

With the 16th Lok Sabha nearing the end of its term, the government was racing against time to introduce it in Rajya Sabha. However, massive protests against the Bill in the Northeast acted to restrain the government, and Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die on February 13, 2019, without the Bill being tabled.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is an outrightly sectarian Bill, which will change the definition of illegal immigrants. The government seeks to amend it in order to facilitate the grant of Indian citizenship to non-Mulsim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian extraction and who had migrated to India without valid travel documents or the validity period of whose documents had expired during their stay in India. These people were compelled to seek refuge in India owing to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution in their countries of origin. The Bill has no provision for Muslim sects such as Shia and Ahmediya, whose members face persecution in Pakistan.

The fundamental criticism of the Bill has been that it specifically targets Muslims. Critics argue that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.

The government, however, maintains that the Bill aims to grant citizenship to minorities who have faced religious persecution in Muslim-majority foreign countries.

The Northeast States have erupted in protests against the Bill. A large section of the people and organizations in the northeast say it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion. The groups were told on Saturday that the Bill will have a provision to detect and deport all the illegal migrants who entered after December 31, 2014.

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