Citizenship (Amendment) Act Rules silent on fate of rejected applicants

If an application is rejected, people may end up in detention centres, warns Matua leader; applicants can be rejected if documents fail scrutiny, or due to adverse security reports; no mention of review procedures in CAA Rules

Updated - April 02, 2024 01:06 pm IST

Published - March 30, 2024 10:27 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Matua Temple at Thakurnagar in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district. The ambiguity around the rejection of citizenship applications poses concerns, particularly for the Matua community, who stand to benefit from the CAA’s provision of fast-tracked citizenship. File

The Matua Temple at Thakurnagar in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district. The ambiguity around the rejection of citizenship applications poses concerns, particularly for the Matua community, who stand to benefit from the CAA’s provision of fast-tracked citizenship. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

As applications start coming in through the online citizenship portal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), some potential applicants are worried about their fate if rejected. The law’s Rules, notified earlier this month, are silent regarding any review process for applications rejected by the empowered committees which have the final authority to accord citizenship under the Act.

Some potential applicants, including lakhs of people from the Matua community of West Bengal, entered the country decades ago and have been living as Indian citizens for many years. However, if their submitted documents now fail the scrutiny of the empowered committee, or if there is an adverse security clearance report about them, their applications for Indian citizenship under the CAA could be rejected.

“If an application is rejected, people may end up in detention centres,” warned Mamata Bala Thakur, a Trinamool Congress parliamentarian who hails from a Hindu community that migrated from Bangladesh.

‘Review by same authority’

The parent law, the Citizenship Act, 1955, says that the applicant may file a review application before the Central government within 30 days and “the decision of the Central Government on such review shall be final.”

Also Read | CAA eligibility certificates : RSS group in Rajasthan issues CAA eligibility certificates to Pakistani. Hindus

According to Aman Wadud, an Assam-based lawyer who has worked extensively on citizenship cases in the State, “the review of the rejection is to be done by the same authority, the empowered committee (as per Section 15 A of the Act). In case the review is rejected, a writ petition can be filed before the High Court.”

Worrying ambiguity

The ambiguity around the rejection of applications poses concerns, particularly for the Matua community in West Bengal, who stand to benefit from the CAA’s provision of fast-tracked citizenship. Lakhs of people belonging to the Scheduled Caste community migrated from Bangladesh (earlier East Pakistan) before and after the 1971 war with Pakistan. Many came without any papers but subsequently acquired all documents proving their Indian citizenship, such as passports and voter identity cards.

On March 12, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee warned that the moment someone applied through the citizenship portal, they ceased to be a citizen and became a refugee.

‘Making people slaves’

Ms. Thakur, a Matua leader nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Trinamool Congress in February, said that the Rules were akin to making people slaves. “No one has applied for CAA here. Even Union Minister Santanu Thakur has not applied yet, his ancestors are from Bangladesh. If an application is rejected, people may end up in detention centres. Why are they asking for all sorts of documents?” she said.

Both the TMC’s Ms. Thakur, a former two-time Lok Sabha MP, and the BJP’s Mr. Thakur belong to the family of the founders of the Matua sect.

When asked about the fate of such applicants who may lose citizenship after applying for CAA even though they have been living for decades as Indian citizens, a BJP leader in West Bengal said: “We have not come across any such case.”

Checking all boxes

Vikram Singh Rajpurohit, an advocate in Rajasthan who has been helping Pakistani Hindu applicants to upload documents on the portal, concurred that the Rules do not specify the measures to be taken in case an application is rejected. “The applicants we have helped check all the boxes in terms of documents and several of them have even received a confirmation that the applications have been accepted. They all came through legal route, but their documents such as passports and visa have expired,” Mr. Rajpurohit said.

On March 11, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified the Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2024 that enabled the implementation of the CAA that was passed by Parliament in December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act, 1955, to fast-track citizenship through registration and naturalisation to undocumented migrants from six non-Muslim communities — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, reducing their qualifying period from the existing 11 years to just five years.

Documents essential

According to the Rules, the applicant must declare the country they belong to along with their “date of entry into India”, and upload on the citizenship portal any of the nine documents issued by government authorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to support their claim.

This means that though the CAA was envisaged for undocumented migrants belonging to the six communities from the three neighbouring countries, the Rules indicate that documents are essential. In an interview to ANI, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the government will soon find a way for people who do not have the required documents to apply under CAA; according to him, 85% applicants possess all the requisite documents.

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