NE tribal areas out of tweaked citizenship bill

NEW DELHI: The Union cabinet on Wednesday cleared a revised Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which seeks to provide a path to Indian citizenship for six minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, to escape religious persecution.
Such Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist immigrants shall be eligible for Indian citizenship from the date of entry and the reworked bill is likely to be introduced in Parliament early next week. Unlike in 2016, when the CAB faced adverse numbers in Rajya Sabha, this time the government is better placed to get the legislation through the upper House.
Unlike the 2016 version of CAB, the latest draft leaves out of its purview tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura covered under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution as well as areas where Inner Line Permit is applicable. This ‘exclusion’ provision seeks to assuage concerns repeatedly expressed by state governments, political parties, student bodies and civil society groups in the north-east about likely displacement of tribes and indigenous people as a fallout of implementation of CAB.
The assurances followed intensive talks between home minister Amit Shah and north-east groups where he stressed on adequate protection to locals and pointed to the continued inflow of illegals which led to demographic changes. He argued that this “economic” influx of Bangladeshis would be countered through the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which will work in tandem with the CAB. The NRC will work to provide verified citizenship lists while CAB offers relief only to minorities whose case is viewed sympathetically by India on grounds of religious persecution.
The CAB seeks to insert a proviso in Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, saying such immigrants who are exempted by the Centre under the Passport (Entry into India) Act and Foreigners Act, “shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of the Citizenship Act”.
Also, as per Section 6B proposed to be inserted in the Act, for minorities who have immigrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the aggregate period of “residence or service of government in India required shall be not less than five years” (it was six years in CAB 2016) in place of “not less than 11 years” under the existing law.
The exclusion under Sixth Schedule will mean there will be restrictions on residence and land ownership in these states and areas to address fears that Indian citizenship will add illegals to the population and strain resources. Interestingly, these restrictions are similar to some that were done away in Jammu and Kashmir following scrapping of the former state’s special status.
The draft bill cleared by the cabinet also proposes to add a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of OCI registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force. However, the cancellation order shall not be passed unless the OCI card-holder has been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. This amendment was also proposed in the 2016 bill cleared by Lok Sabha but could not be brought to Rajya Sabha due to the government’s lack of numbers and in view of opposition from north-eastern states.
This time around, Shah followed a proper process of consultations with all stakeholders in the north-eastern states before giving shape to the draft bill brought to the cabinet on Wednesday. Over the past week or so, Shah has met chief ministers of all north-eastern states concerned and also opposition leaders, besides student leaders and civil society delegations, to hear and allay their concerns.
As per the proposed Section 6B of CAB 2019, from the date of commencement of the amended Act, any proceedings pending under the section in residence, illegal immigration or citizenship, shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship.
A government functionary told TOI that changes in the Citizenship Act were aimed at removing hardships and difficulties faced by a specific class of persons who were forced to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution in their home countries, thus furthering principles of equity and inclusiveness. The functionary added that clarifications regarding illegal migrants would be placed in the public domain.

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