The Lok Sabha passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there, a little past midnight on Monday after a heated debate that lasted over seven hours.
The Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha with 311 members favouring it and 80 votings against it, will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?
The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to accord eligibility to illegal Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan for Indian citizenship. It, naturally, implies that migrants, who identify themselves with any group or community other than those mentioned above, from these countries won't be eligible for citizenship.
The bill also relaxes the provisions for "Citizenship by naturalisation".
One of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation under the act was that the applicant must have resided in India in the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The proposed law reduces these 11 years to just six years for people belonging to the same six religions and three countries mentioned above.
Which are the states exempted from it, and why?
Following widespread protests -- continuing -- in the North East of India, and most vocal in Assam, the has Centre taken notice of their concerns and tried to address by making a few changes to the proposed law.
Presently, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) says, “Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under ‘The InterLine’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.”
The areas under the 'InterLine' require Indians from other states to get 'Inner Line Permit' to enter or pass through them.
Presently, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland fall under the Inner Line Permit.
Both the provisions for exemption from the CAB leave the fate of two out of the eight Northeastern states, Sikkim and Manipur, in the dark.
What about Manipur and Sikkim, then?
There were concerns that Manipur could end up suffering the most if the CAB is implemented. The state has been demanding ILP regime for a long time but the demand has been fractious due to inter-ethnic conflicts between hill and valley people.
The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971, passed by Parliament, cleared the path for the establishment of six Autonomous District Councils in the state in 1972. But they have much lower powers compared to ADCs under the Sixth Schedule.
However, Amit Shah, while tabling the CAB in the Lok Sabha on Monday, said Manipur will be brought under ILP regime.
The Chief Minister of Sikkim, P S Tamang, had written to Amit Shah asking for an exemption from the CAB. In his letter, he underlined the Constitutional safeguard under Article 371(F) which governs the state of Sikkim and provides it special status.
Why is the North East States protesting?
The Bill has triggered widespread protests in northeastern states where many feel that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants will disturb the region's demography and further burden resources and decrease employment opportunities for indigenous people.
A large section of people and organisations opposing the Bill also say it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
What next now?
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is likely to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Previously, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to get the nod of the upper house on several contentious bills, including the amendment to RTI Act and abrogation of Article 370.
While it was easy for the saffron party to get the bill passed in the Lok Sabha, it's still not over for the Opposition in the upper house of the Parliament where the current strength is 238 and the majority mark 120.