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Citizenship Bill may have to wait for House nod

People shouting slogans during a protest against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Guwahati. File photo BIJU BORO

People shouting slogans during a protest against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Guwahati. File photo BIJU BORO  

JPC plans to hold wider consultations

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is unlikely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament as the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that is examining the legislation intends to have wider consultations, its chairperson said.

JPC chairperson Rajendra Agrawal told The Hindu that the Bill needed further intensive discussions and the JPC would seek the advice of legal and constitutional experts. The Bill proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.

Resistance in Assam

There has been strong resistance to the Bill in Assam as it seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh. Several political and civil groups in Assam have said the Bill would pave the way for giving citizenship to illegal Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam, in violation of the Assam Accord, 1985.

The JPC that visited Assam on May 7 faced protests as indigenous groups see the Bill as a move to legitimise Hindus who have migrated from Bangladesh after 1971. As per the orders of the Supreme Court, the next draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to be published on June 30, and this has also created hurdles to the passage of the Bill. A total of 3.29 crore people applied for inclusion in the NRC. In the first list, around 1.9 crore names were included.

Mr. Agrawal said they would wait for the NRC process to be completed. The NRC is being updated to weed out illegal migrants who came to the State after the 1971 war when Bangladesh liberated itself from Pakistan.

The cut-off date for NRC is midnight March 24, 1971 and all those who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh before this period would get Indian citizenship as per the Assam Accord .

“Divergent views have emerged and in some areas there is support for the Bill and in some there is fierce opposition. This is a question of their (Assamese) identity...they are apprehensive,” Mr. Agrawal, who is also a BJP MP from Meerut said. He said the next meeting of the JPC, that comprises 30 MPs, has not been decided yet as they were still studying the old proposals.

“We will address everyone’s concern, be it Assam or any other State. In Gujarat and Rajasthan there is huge support for the Bill. We have to consider the question: when the NRC is finalised in Assam, what will be done and can be done for those people who become stateless? We have asked people what they want. We will also ask experts. I may belong to one party but as a chairperson (of this committee) I don’t belong to any party. Whoever has expertise, any bureaucrat, locals, legal and foreign relation experts will be consulted,” he said.

Asked if the JPC could propose striking off Bangladesh from the benefactor countries, Mr. Agrawal said, “The amendment is only for three countries. The committee knows its mandate. If there is a new development, we can discuss it. There is no deadline but the Bill needs intense consultation and it looks difficult that it will be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.”

A Home Ministry official said 12,100 Hindu immigrants from Pakistan were granted long-term visas since 2012. LTVs are precursors to citizenship based on the report given by the State governments.

Through an executive order in 2015, the Home Ministry relaxed the provisions for persecuted religious minorities from the three neighbouring countries in respect of their entry and stay in India without proper documents or after the expiry of relevant documents. Since 2015, around 150 Bangladeshi Hindus were also granted LTVs.

There has been no exact numbers of such minority refugees from these countries but officials put the figure at around two lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan living in India.

There are 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur. Hindu refugees from Bangladesh mostly live in West Bengal and North East States.

Meanwhile in Guwahati, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Friday met representatives of the All Assam Students’ Union and 27 organisations of indigenous communities opposed to the Bill and assured them that his BJP-led government would not take any step against the interest of the State and its people.

Mr. Sonowal  also urged them to ensure an atmosphere suitable for publication of the final draft of the updated NRC by June 30.

(With inputs from Rahul Karmakar)

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The earlier version of this article mentioned Assam Chief Minister as Tarun Gogoi. It's Sarbananda Sonowal. The error is regretted.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 9:13:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/citizenship-bill-may-have-to-wait-for-house-nod/article24061226.ece

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