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Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 tabled in Lok Sabha

By Kalyan Barooah

NEW DELHI, July 19 - Despite facing stiff opposition in its bid to grant citizenship to Hindu Bengalis, the NDA Government on Tuesday tabled the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 making nationals of various countries including Bangladesh eligible for acquiring Indian citizenship.

The Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh proposes to make minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for applying for Indian citizenship.

The Bill said that under the existing provisions of the Citizenship Act, persons belonging to the minority community, who have either entered India without travel documents or the validity of whose documents has expired are regarded as illegal migrants and hence they are ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship. �It is proposed to make them eligible to apply for Indian citizenship,� the statement of object and reasons said.

The issue had triggered controversy in Assam as granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis was one of the poll promises made by the BJP. The State BJP Government had recently sought clarifications on the Bill from the Centre pointing out that the move has led to resentment among the Assamese.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, however, quickly denied the report carried by this newspaper stating that Hindu Bengalis were promised citizenship and they shall get it.

Meanwhile, the Amendment Bill explained that many persons of Indian origin, including persons belonging to the minority community from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been applying for citizenship under Section 5 of the Act, but are unable to produce proof of their origin. Hence, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation under Section 6 of the Act, which among others things prescribes 12-year residency as a qualification for naturalisation in terms of the Third Schedule to the Act.

This denies them many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently.

It is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to minority communities from the three countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing 12 years.

Currently, there is no specific provision in Section 7D of the Act to cancel the registration of Overseas Citizens of India Cardholders, who violate any Indian law. It is also proposed to amend the Section 7D, as to empower the Central Government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizens of India in case of violation of the provisions of the Act or any other law for the time being in force.

Meanwhile, in the Lok Sabha, moving a Zero Hour notice, BJP MP RP Sharma urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to completely seal the Indo-Bangladesh border as done in case of the Indo-Pakistan border.

Sharma said that being an open and porous border between the two countries for the last 62 years, the Indo-Bangladesh border has become infiltration-prone. It is estimated that about one crore Bangladeshis have crossed over to India and spread all over the country, many of them settling in Assam and neighbouring states.

The Congress Government has in the last 68 years kept the border open with an eye on the Bangladeshi vote bank, while illegal Bangladeshis were legalised, Sharma alleged. The unfenced border has also led to increase in cattle smuggling and annually about 23 lakh cattle are smuggled annually, he said.

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