New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die on February 13 without taking up the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 for discussion and passage in the house. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on January 8.
The upper house was adjourned without setting a later date for convening after it passed a few bills without a debate, including the Interim Budget and Finance Bill for 2019.
Over the last few weeks, Assam, along with the rest of the Northeastern states, witnessed a slew of protests and bandhs opposing the Bill. The protests – that accelerated after the Bill was passed in the lower house – gained further momentum after the revised list of business of the Rajya Sabha on February 11 scheduled it for a vote.
Many opposition leaders from the region, civil society activists, student leaders as well as those from parties allied to the ruling-BJP have also trooped into Delhi to register their disapproval to the central government. Several flash protests were also carried out in the national capital, where effigies of Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh were set on fire.
The Bill is intended to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the grounds of religious persecution, even if they entered the country without valid documents till December 31, 2014.
While the government – through the Bill – tried to legalise awarding citizenship on religious grounds, the indigenous people of Assam and the Northeast expressed stern opposition to it. They feared that many undocumented Hindus from Bangladesh residing in the region would be granted citizenship and would, in turn, challenge the cultural and political hegemony of the indigenous people in the long run.
The amendment is also in contradiction to the Assam Accord of 1985, as per which any foreigner (from Bangladesh or elsewhere) – Hindu or Muslim – who entered the state after March 24, 1971, would have to be detected and deported to their country of origin.
The ordinance route to implement proposed amendments
However, with the adjournment of the the Rajya Sabha without discussing it, the Bill has practically lapsed. Constitutional expert P.D.T. Achary explains, “If a Bill is passed by the Lok Sabha and not by the Rajya Sabha, naturally it has lapsed.”
The Bill will now have to be reintroduced in the new Lok Sabha.
But the lapse of a Bill in Parliament doesn’t prevent the incumbent government from issuing an ordinance to bring forth the amendment it intended to through the Bill.
“If they feel so, the government of the day can always bring an ordinance to that effect, whether the house is dissolved or not. An ordinance can be brought under two conditions. One, when the house is not in session. Two, when there is an urgency and the president is convinced of it.”
In March 2014, barely a month before the general elections, the Manmohan Singh Government passed an ordinance to insert amendments in to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. But the Bill was not passed by the Lok Sabha, unlike the Citizenship (Amendment) Act – which was. It was later introduced in the Lok Sabha only in July 2014.
Achary, however, pointed out: “The government can still issue an ordinance. The important point to be kept in mind here is not whether it was passed by/or introduced in the Lok Sabha, but that Parliament is not in session. If it is in session, an ordinance has to be approved by it within six weeks. Else it would lapse.”
The life of an ordinance is six months. But the government can renew it.
Aside from the Citizenship Bill passed by the Lok Sabha, three other contentious Bills passed by the lower house – the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill or the Triple Talaq Bill, the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill 2019, and the Transgender Persons (Protection) of Rights Bill, 2019 – also lapsed as they were not passed by the Rajya Sabha in the concluding session of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Meanwhile, replying to a query by Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, in a written reply, said today that the government awarded Indian citizenship to 1,595 persons from Pakistan and 392 from Afghanistan. He said since 2018, 295 Hindus from Afghanistan and Pakistan were granted Indian citizenship. They were granted citizenship through multiple notifications issued by the Modi government to grant citizenship to persons belonging to the identified six groups from the three neighbouring countries on religious grounds. However, figures on Hindu-Bangladeshis was not given as the questions asked were outside its purview.
In January, a civil society group from Assam filed a PIL against the government’s notifications in the Supreme Court. The court adjourned the hearing indefinitely, asking the petitioners to wait until the Citizenship Bill became an Act.