New Delhi: A year-and-a-half after it enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that provided a fast track route to citizenship for non-Muslim communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Centre on Friday allowed Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from these three countries who are residing in 13 districts of India to apply for the host country’s citizenship. However, the applications have been invited under the Citizenship Act of 1955 since the rules pertaining to the amended Act are yet to be finalised.
It may be recalled that the enactment of CAA, which was passed by parliament in December 2019 despite strong protests by the opposition, when twinned with the possible creation of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), was seen as a move which discriminated against the Muslims. There were widespread protests against these moves of the Centre.
The notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) read, “In exercise of powers conferred under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the Central Government hereby directs that powers exercisable by it for registration as citizen of India under Section 5, or for grant of certificate of naturalisation under section 6 of the Citizenship Act 1955 in respect of any person belonging to minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, residing in the districts mentioned and the states mentioned below.”
The 13 districts – Morbi, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Durg, Balodabazar, Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer, Sirohi, Faridabad and Jalandhar – fall in the fives states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab.
Incidentally, the notification for immediate implementation of the order has been issued under the Citizenship Act 1955 and Rules framed under the law in 2009 and not under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 since its rules have still not been framed.
Though the rules are said to be essential for the implementation of the Act, the MHA has not been able to finalise them despite deliberating on them for over a year.
According to the Indian Express, these rules are required to specify the nature of documents that would be needed to prove whether an applicant came to India from the three countries before the cut off date, December 31, 2014. “Most [undocumented immigrants] have entered the country without any travel documents,” a source told the newspaper.
Earlier in 2018, a similar notification was issued by the Centre granting similar powers to collectors and home secretaries Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi with regard to some districts.
The notification, issued on May 28, has granted the same powers to the home secretaries of Haryana and Punjab, except for Faridabad and Jalandhar.
It further said that “the application for registration as citizen of India or grant of certificate of naturalisation as citizen of India under the said rules (Citizenship Rules, 2009) shall be made by the applicant online.”
Thereafter, it said, the verification of the application would be done simultaneously by collector or secretary (home) of Haryana and Punjab as the case may be, at the district-level and the state-level. It added that “the application and the reports thereon shall be made accessible simultaneously to the Central government on online portal”.
“The collector or the secretary, as the case may be, makes such inquiry as he considers necessary for ascertaining the suitability of the applicant and for that purpose forwards the application online to such agencies for verification and comments as may be required for completing such an inquiry,” the notification said, adding, “the instructions issued by the Central Government from time-to-time in this regard shall be strictly complied with by state or union territory and district concerned.”
It further provided that the comments of the agencies would be uploaded online by them and made accessible to the collector or the secretary, as the case may be, and the Central government.
On being “satisfied with the suitability of the applicant”, the notification said, the collector or the secretary will grant the citizenship of India by registration or naturalisation and issue a certificate of registration or naturalisation”.
The notification also lays down that the collector or the secretary would “maintain an online as well as physical register, in accordance with the said rules, containing the details of the person registered or naturalised as a citizen of India and furnish a copy thereof to the central government within seven days of such registration or naturalisation.”