NEW DELHI: The Centre will reintroduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the coming session of Parliament, expected in December.

The Bill, when passed, seeks to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities—Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis—from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, after their stay in India for seven years, instead of 12 years at present. This will be applicable to those who came to India before 31 December 2014.

The contentious Bill, which had triggered massive protests in Assam and the rest of Northeast, was passed by the Lok Sabha on 8 January, but the government did not table it in the Rajya Sabha as it did not have the required numbers in the Upper House to pass it, leading the Bill to lapse with the end of the term of the 16th Lok Sabha in May.

Currently, the Citizenship Act, 1955 treats such persons as “illegal migrants” and disentitles them from applying for Indian citizenship.

A Gazette Notification was issued on 24 October last year by the Centre to facilitate expeditious grant of Indian citizenship only to legal migrants from the six minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan if they fulfilled the eligibility criteria. This notification does not amend the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955, or the rules. The notification of 24 October and the lapsed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 thus deal with different categories of immigrants from the six minority communities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Bill, sources said, will apply to all states and Union Territories of the country, and not only Assam. The beneficiaries of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill can reside in any state of the country. The burden of these persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. “Assam alone would not have to bear the entire burden and Government of India will give all help to the state governments,” a BJP source said.

The BJP, it is to be noted, said in its 2019 election manifesto: “We are committed to enactment of Citizenship Amendment Bill for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution.”

“The minority communities are facing discrimination and religious persecution in these countries. They have no place to go to, except India,” a source said. “The Act will provide relief to persecuted migrants who have come through the western borders of the country to states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and other states. The proposed amendment will make these persecuted migrants eligible to apply for citizenship, which will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the state government. The minimum residency period for citizenship is being reduced from existing 12 years under the present law to seven years,” the source added.

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