Rules can wait, Centre goes ahead with citizenship policy

Demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act
A protestor holds a placard during a demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Jamia Nagar in New Delhi. File/PTI

New Delhi: The Union government has empowered 13 more district collectors in five states to issue citizenship certificates to six minority communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued the notification even as the contentious 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is yet to come into effect. The Citizenship Act, 1955, does not provide for granting religion-based citizenship.

In this backdrop, the May 28 notification underscores the fact that the government had already initiated steps to grant citizenship to the members of six communities, excluding Muslims. The government cited rules to implement its plan even before amending the Act in 2019.

• District collectors of 13 districts in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have been empowered to grant citizenship certificates to undocumented members of Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi, Sikh and Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In other districts of these states, Home secretaries will issue the certificates.

• Though citizenship is a central subject, the Ministry of Home Affairs, through a notification, can delegate powers to the states to grant citizenship under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. The May 28 notification was issued based on this norm.

• Similar notifications were issued in 2016 and 2018. The previous notifications were also about members of the six communities from the three countries.

Citizenship Amendment Act rules are under preparation: Govt tells Lok Sabha

• Applications for citizenship were invited based on rules formulated in 2009. The rules were based on the 1955 Act. The 2009 rules, however, do not mention the three countries --Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh — or the six communities. The rules were twice amended in 2018. The amendment of October 18, 2018, included a question asking the applicant’s religion. The next amendment, notified on December 3, 2018, added another question, whether the applicant belonged to any of the six religions from the aforementioned three countries.

• The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed in Parliament in December 2019, became controversial since it granted citizenship based on religion. The major CAA clauses dealt with granting citizenship to the members of six communities, who faced religious persecution in any of the three countries. Earlier, refugees living in the country for a minimum of 11 years were granted Indian citizenship. The CAA slashed the required minimum period of stay to five years.

• Though the amendments passed in 2019 came into effect on January 10 last year, rules were not formulated based on the amendments. The Minister of Home Affairs clarified that further action would be initiated after the COVID-19 crisis.

• The Citizenship Act of 1955 had not included provisions for granting religion-based citizenship, but it was included in 2019 December. However, changes were made even before the provisions were added to the Act.

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