The Government of the day in India has proposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 with an aim to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Bill once passed by the upper and lower houses of India will become an Act and will be abiding on all those to which it is applicable. This Act, the implementation of which is a herculean task as it entails over five million people. Many of them may not be digitally mapped by means of any of the digitization projects like Aadhaar, National Register of Citizens (NRC), Ration Card or any outer Digital Database. Hence, the challenge is not the passing of the bill, but its implementation in terms of identification, deportation, detention, and issue of citizenship card. It is obvious that this task can only be done through Digital means based on database and digital mapping done earlier. It is hence cautioned that the implementation of the Bill will never be possible, if the people affected are not part of any Digital Database or are not Digitally Identified; the action to provide Citizenship to legitimate migrants, as also to deport/detain illegal migrants will not be possible in the absence of a Uniquely Identifiable Digital Mapping.
The proposed Bill which has already been passed by the Lower House, i.e. Lok Sabha on 10 Dec 2019, proposes to allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship. The Bill excludes the illegal migrants or those on Long Term Visa (LTV) of Muslim community from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The bill also relaxes the provisions for “Citizenship by naturalisation”. The proposed law reduces duration of residency from existing 11 years to just five years for people belonging to the same six religions and three countries. This would mean migrants belonging to these religious communities who entered India without the necessary documents prior to 2014 would not be imprisoned or deported and would gain permanent citizenship after six years of residency in India.
The passing of the Bill, 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. After all the opposition the bill after passing the floor test at Lok Sabha has been placed before the Upper House, i.e. Rajya Sabha; if the Bill is passed by the house, it will be placed before the President of India for consent/ratification and will become a Law of the country.
The Controversy pertaining to the proposed Bill
This Bill, like many others, has been marred by myths and controversies, yet the government has been able to push the bill through, in the lower house of parliament. Few of the issues pertaining to the Bill is listed below:
- The claim that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is more Hindu biased and has alienated Muslims and is not in line with the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
- The claim by many that the Bill if introduced will legitimise the citizenship of many Hindu Migrants presently in the North East (NE) states of India who are primarily those from Bangladesh.
- The claim that, once The proposed Bill becomes an Act and is enforced in the country, it would prove to be a huge blow to all the indigenous people of the NE as the number of Hindus among the illegal immigrants entering from the neighboring countries in the region is huge.
- The claim by one school of thought, that the implementation of this Act, will disturb the demographic and cultural blend of the NE states.
- The claim that introduction of the Bill, has itself made the illegal migrants excluding Muslims, eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
- The claim by the Government that the Muslims are not minorities in the three countries namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh; hence, these people have not been persecuted and deported from them, the Muslims of these countries need not be addressed in the ‘right to Indian citizenship’.(this leaves out the Ahmadis of Pakistan who have taken shelter in India after suffering persecution)
- The contention by many that the Bill would breach the clauses of the historic Assam Accord, which states that all illegal foreigners who came to the state after 1971 from Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion, have to be deported.
- The fact that this Bill directly, does not talk about the fate of Rohingyas from Myanmar presently residing in India.
- The fear of the Oversees Citizenship of India (OCI) who does not reside in India but of Indian Origin, of losing their registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences.
Implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, once passed, in India is always a challenge as it has to address a large mass. The process of identification, deportation, detention, and issue of citizenship card as per the law, is only possible through Digital means and it not implementable through the Manual process. The fear that these subsequently identified illegal migrants and illegal residents within India, may go un-noticed is also a concern:
- The affected people, after the bill has defined the classification (Legal or illegal), will have to be digitally identifiable. Presently the Aadhaar, the NRC, and the e-ration card are the only means of establishing the Digital Identity; but there are over one to two million people who have been left out from any of the Digital Identification schemes of the government.
- Many of the Digital Identification scheme, do not carry religion as a mandatory field, hence there may be gaps in now identifying the religion of an individual.
- There are approximately Four million residents left off from the citizens’ register database (a recent exercise carried out by the Government). These may include Illegal migration from Bangladesh and many of them have not been bifurcated based on religion; now for them to testify a false-religion to still stay on in India, is also a concern.
- The classification of illegal and legal among the 200 million strong Muslim community in India, is again a difficult task, as many of them are not Digitally mapped. And may also lead to atrocities to this community, due to mis-management.
- The fact that, due to non capture of Digital Identity, many illegally declared people will continue to still stay back in India, driving the complete exercise to futility.
- The lack of proliferation of IT and IT infrastructure, into the NE States, makes it difficult for the implementer to establish connect to the people who will come under the ambit for implementation.
- The legitimates being left out due to lack of IT will and Digitisation.
- The need to build and establish IT infrastructure to ensure a clean digitised deportation methodology, so as to avoid re-entry with modified credentials.
There are many questions that are yet to be answered in so far as the implementation of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to be amended vise the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. These questions will require to be well answered when it may be subjected to judicial scrutiny and also when questioned by Cyber Experts for its modalities of implementation.
Taking it forward, the government has already announced that the NRC exercise will be extended all across India, in the coming days. Notwithstanding all that is said, it is understood that all forms of ‘legalisation of Citizenship in India’, is possible only through Digital means. Hence it is pertinent to mention that all such schemes need to ride on a Robust, Foolproof and Secure IT System and Infrastructure.