Citizenship Amendment Act 2019

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    The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the arguments on the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. 

    Major Provisions of Act

    • The 2019 CAA amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 allowing Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities who fled from the neighboring Muslim majority countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014 due to “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution”. 
      • However, the Act excludes Muslims. 
    • Under CAA 2019 amendment, migrants who entered India by December 31, 2014, and had suffered “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin, were made eligible for citizenship by the new law. 
    • These types of migrants will be granted fast track Indian citizenship in six years. The amendment also relaxed the residence requirement for naturalisation of these migrants from eleven years to five.
    • Relaxations: Under The Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years.
      • The amendment relaxes the second requirement from 11 years to 6 years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to these six religions, and the aforementioned three countries.
    • illegal migrant : Under the Act, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who
      • Enters the country without valid travel documents like a passport and visa, or
      • Enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period.
    • Exemptions: It exempts the members of the six communities from any criminal case under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport Act, 1920. The two Acts specify punishment for entering the country illegally and staying here on expired visas and permits.
    • Sixth Schedule:  The provisions of the Act will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and States of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland that are protected by the Inner Line Permit (ILP). Later, Manipur was added to the list of exempted States. This means that those “illegal” migrants who will be deemed Indian citizens through the Act will not be able to settle down in the exempted areas.

    Governments Stand 

    • The government has argued that the CAA does not discriminate on the basis of religion but provides relief to persecuted minorities in the region.
    • The CAA addresses the plight of the minorities affected by Partition. In its affidavit, the government has argued that under the 1950 Nehru-Liaquat Pact, India and Pakistan had promised “complete equality of citizenship” and “a full sense of security” to their religious minorities.
    •  The failure of Pakistan and by extension today’s Bangladesh to honour this promise justifies targeting relief to non-Muslim refugees from these two countries. 
    • According to the government the legislation is “compassionate and ameliorative” and does not deprive any Indian of citizenship.
    •  The present legal process of acquiring Indian citizenship by any foreigner of any category as provided in the Citizenship Act-1955 is very much operational and the CAA does not amend or alter this legal position in any manner whatsoever. 
    • Hence, legal migrants of any religion from any country will continue to get Indian citizenship once they fulfil the eligibility conditions already provided in the law for registration or naturalisation.
    • The CAA does not affect the protection granted by the Constitution to indigenous population of northeastern states.
    • It will benefit non-Muslims excluded from the proposed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship.
    • It aims to grant citizenship to minorities who have faced religious persecution in Muslim-majority foreign countries.

    Challenges /Concerns 

    • The fundamental criticism of the act has been that it specifically targets Muslims.
      • The protesters claimed that the law violates the Constitution as it aims to grant Indian citizenship on the basis of religion — barring Muslims.
    • Critics argue that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
    • The prospect of citizenship for massive numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has triggered deep anxieties, including fears of demographic change, loss of livelihood opportunities, and erosion of the indigenous culture.
    • The protests, some of them violent, have created a law and order situation.
    • The CAA’s ambiguities will pose further challenges for the government. 
      • For instance, it does not define “persecution” or provide meaningful guidance about what beneficiaries will need to prove beyond their religious identity.
      •  It is also unclear if Muslim immigrants would qualify under the CAA if they convert to Hinduism. 

    What happens next

    • The  Supreme Court will have to ensure that all pleadings, written submissions are filed and served to the opposite party before it is listed for final hearing. 
    • The first question for the Supreme Court is whether this “religious test” for Indian citizenship is arbitrary and discriminatory. 
    • The Court will have to carefully consider if excluding long-term refugees and their Indian-born children from Indian citizenship, who do not have meaningful recourse to any other country’s citizenship, violates the rights they enjoy as persons under the Constitution.
    • The “religious test” of citizenship under CAA will also have to be assessed on how it alters our constitutional identity as a secular and inclusive polity that belongs to all its citizens irrespective of their religious faith.
    • The Supreme Court will have to consider whether under the law it should take the government’s claims at face value or inquire deeper into its motives.

    Mains Practise Question 

    [Q] Explain the salient features of Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. Do you think it is efficacious enough  to provide relief to persecuted minorities?