CAA rules likely to be notified before 2024 Lok Sabha poll: Home Ministry official

Pakistani Hindus, who entered India legally but their documents expired, will be eligible to become citizens under CAA; Home Ministry official says December 31, 2014 cut-off to grant citizenship could be extended if the need arises

January 02, 2024 08:31 pm | Updated January 10, 2024 12:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Hindu refugees, who migrated from Pakistan’s Sindh Province, display their passports in Ahmedabad. File

Hindu refugees, who migrated from Pakistan’s Sindh Province, display their passports in Ahmedabad. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The rules of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are likely to be notified before the announcement of the next general election, a senior government official said on Tuesday. Members of the Pakistani Hindu community who had entered India legally and their documents expired while awaiting citizenship will also be eligible to apply online under CAA, the official added.

The CAA, which was passed by the Parliament in December 2019, is yet to be implemented. It is only after the rules are notified that the Act will come into force.

The Hindu had reported on December 29, 2023 that there is a one-month window for the CAA to be implemented before the next Budget Session, which is expected to start on February 1.

The legislation facilitates citizenship to undocumented people, who entered illegally without visas and passports, belonging to six non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The CAA fast-tracks citizenship to people belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Christian and Jain communities from the three neighbouring countries who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Act reduces the requirement of aggregate stay in India for applicants from the six communities seeking citizenship from 11 years to six years.

‘Cut-off may be extended’

The official added that if the need arises, the 2014 cut-off can be extended by bringing in necessary legal changes. The total number of undocumented people, particularly in West Bengal and Assam, who will get citizenship under CAA has not been specified by the Ministry.

Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangathan, a group that advocates for the rights of Pakistani minority migrants in India, said around 80,000 applications of Hindus from Pakistan were pending with the authorities.

“In Rajasthan, there are 35,000 people whose citizenship application is pending. All these people came on valid papers and visa post-2010. They have been waiting for citizenship for more than 10 years,” Mr. Sodha told The Hindu.

The Union Home Ministry in 2018 made the citizenship process online for such applicants. Over the years, it has empowered and delegated powers to district collectors of 31 districts and home secretaries to accept accept online applications to grant citizenship to applicants belonging to the six communities under Section 5 (registration) and Section 6 (naturalisation) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.

‘Pakistani passport holders cannot renew online’

Despite an online process being in place, the portal does not accept expired Pakistani passports, forcing people to apply to the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi to get their passports renewed for a hefty sum.

Most Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs came to the country either on long term visas (LTV) or pilgrim visas. LTVs given for five years are a precursor to citizenship.

In 2015, the Ministry amended the citizenship rules and legalised the stay of the foreign migrants belonging to the six communities who entered India on or before December 2014 due to persecution on grounds of religion by exempting them from provisions of Passports Act and Foreigners Act as their passports expired.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2011 had decided to grant LTVs to hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs who came to India claiming religious persecution in Pakistan in 2010.

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