Centre Evades Question on Re-Introducing Citizenship Bill in Parliament

Evading a pointed question from a BJP MP, the government instead gave a short history of the Bill after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016.

New Delhi: Even though the BJP’s top leadership, during its high octane campaign for the 2019 general elections, reiterated multiple times that it would reintroduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in parliament if it returns to power, the government evaded the issue in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

BJP MP P.P. Chaudhary posed a pointed question, asking if the government proposed to introduce the Bill “with a view to give protection to religious minorities harassed in neighboring countries”. Minister of state for home Nityanand Rai avoided a direct answer and instead gave a short history of the Bill after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016. He included that a joint committee of parliament was created, that its report was presented to the house on January 1, and that the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8 and that it lapsed with the dissolution of the house.

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Putting out some figures in the public domain in this regard, the minister said, “As per data available, 2,447 legal migrants belonging to six identified minority communities from the three countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) have been granted Indian citizenship by collectors of 16 districts and secretary (home) of seven states.” The minister neither clarified who is a “legal migrant” nor specified which were the seven states “where most of these migrants are residing”.

The Bill bats for granting Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist and Parsi citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have been discriminated on grounds of religion. Till date, the Citizenship Act, 1955, doesn’t have a provision for granting Indian citizenship on the basis of religion.

The Bill was vehemently protested in the northeastern states, mainly in Assam, as it would violate the principal clause of Assam Accord, which led to the culmination of a long-drawn-out mass movement against undocumented migrants, principally from Bangladesh. Though as per the Accord, the state was given an exclusive citizenship cut-off date of March 24, 1971, the Bill grants Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis who entered Assam and elsewhere by December 31, 2014.