- Amit Shah will introduce bill to amend six-decade-old Citizenship Act
- Several opposition leaders have termed the amendment as discriminatory
- The Modi government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure too
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is set to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha today, amid opposition objections and widespread protests in the Northeast against what many of its residents claim is a move to nullify a decades-old accord aimed at stemming illegal immigration.
Mr Shah will introduce the bill to amend the six-decade-old Citizenship Act this afternoon, after which it would be taken up for discussion and passage. The legislation seeks to make it easier for non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to gain citizenship in the country.
The influential North East Students' Organisation has announced an 11-hour shutdown on Tuesday against what they believe is an attempt to tear down the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of their religious background. In Assam, prominent student groups have threatened to launch an all-out agitation - similar to the one from last year - if the bill is passed.
The original Citizenship Act of 1955 stated that individuals seeking Indian citizenship should have lived in the country for 11 of the last 14 years. The amendment proposes to reduce that time period to five years for non-Muslim applicants, and grants them immunity from government action pertaining to their illegal status.
Many opposition leaders, including Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, have termed the amendment as discriminatory. "If you give citizenship to all communities, we will accept it. But if you discriminate on the basis of religion, we will fight it," Ms Banerjee warned the centre recently. Mr Tharoor, on the other hand, called it a "fundamentally unconstitutional" piece of legislation that violates the "basic idea of India".
However, the BJP maintains that the legislative action is required to provide refuge to "persecuted minorities" in neighbouring countries. "This bill intends to protect people who have been religiously persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh... so how can you expect it to be secular?" Assam BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma asked NDTV.
However, the draft bill - cleared by the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently - does make concessions for specific areas that are opposed to its implementation. To placate agitators in the Northeast who believe that permanently settling illegal immigrant will disturb the demography of the region, the government has introduced provisions to exclude regions coming under the Inner Line Permit regime and the sixth schedule of the constitution.
The Narendra Modi government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure too, even gaining the Lok Sabha's approval, but could not introduce it in the upper house due to protests in the northeast. The legislation eventually lapsed.