Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019- Highlights and Criticism


In this article, we are going to learn about Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019- Highlights and Criticism. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA Bill) was first introduced in 2016 in Lok Sabha by amending the Citizenship Act of 1955.

The CAA was passed to provide Indian citizenship to the illegal migrants who entered India on or before 31st December 2014. Any individual will be considered eligible for this act if he/she has resided in India during the last 12 months and for 11 of the previous 14 years. For the specified class of illegal migrants, the number of years of residency has been relaxed from 11 years to five years.

Applicability of the Amended Act

    • These provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution.
    • Further, it will not apply to the “Inner Line” areas notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
    • Currently, this permit system is applicable to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland. Manipur has also been brought under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime through a Gazette Notification on the same day the bill was passed in the parliament.

Citizenship in India

  • The Constitution of India provides for single citizenship for the whole of India.
  • Under Article 11 of the Indian Constitution, Parliament has the power to regulate the right of citizenship by law. Accordingly, the parliament had passed the Citizenship act of 1955 to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian Citizenship.
  • Entry 17, List 1 under the Seventh Schedule speaks about Citizenship, naturalization, and aliens. Thus, Parliament has exclusive power to legislate with respect to citizenship.
  • Until 1987, to be eligible for Indian citizenship, it was sufficient for a person to be born in India.
    • Then, spurred by the populist movements alleging massive illegal migrations from Bangladesh, citizenship laws were first amended to additionally require that at least one parent should be Indian.
  • In 2004, the law was further amended to prescribe that not just one parent be Indian; but the other should not be an illegal immigrant.

Criticism highlights

1. It is against Muslims

  • The fundamental criticism of the Act has been that it specifically targets Muslims. Thus, the religious basis of citizenship not only violates the principles of secularism but also of liberalism, equality, and justice.
  • It will not extend to those persecuted in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, from where Rohingya Muslims and Tamils are staying in the country as refugees.

2. It violates Article 14

  • Critics argue that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
  • The CAA is in the teeth of Article 14, which not only demands reasonable classification and a rational and just object to be achieved for any classification to be valid but additionally requires every such classification to be non-arbitrary.
  • This Act is an instance of class legislation, as classification on the ground of religion is not permissible.

3. Why North East is objecting to CAA?

  • In the Northeastern states, the prospect of citizenship for massive numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has triggered deep anxieties, including fears of demographic change, loss of livelihood opportunities, and erosion of the indigenous culture.
  • The Act appears to violate the Assam Accord, both in letter and spirit.
    • The Assam Accord, signed between the then Rajiv Gandhi-led central government and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), had fixed March 24, 1971, as the cutoff date for foreign immigrants.
    • The Citizenship Amendment Act moved the cutoff date for six religions to December 31, 2014, something that is not acceptable to the Assamese-speaking people in Brahmaputra Valley, who insist that all illegal immigrants should be treated as illegal.
  • There is also an economic problem. If lakhs of Bangladesh people start moving to North East, the pressure will first show in the principal economic resource—land.

4. Other issues surrounding CAA

  • CAA does not consider Jews and atheists.
  • The basis of clubbing Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh together and thereby excluding other (neighboring) countries is unclear.
  • Exclusion of countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar
  • Focus only on religious persecution:
    • CAA will deny equal protection of laws to similarly placed persons who come to India as “illegal migrants”

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