As Opposition MPs proposed an amendment to remove specific countries and religions from the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, at a joint parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi wanted legal proceedings against six persecuted minorities to be dropped.
Ms. Lekhi’s amendment, if accepted, could mean that Bangladeshi Hindus lodged in detention centres in Assam, facing deportation or declared illegal foreigners would get relief.
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.
There has been vocal opposition to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came after March 1971, in violation of the agreement of the Assam Accord, 1985.
Around 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30.
The joint parliamentary committee, under the chairmanship of BJP MP Rajendra Agarwal, went through clause-by-clause amendments to the Bill.
It deliberated on the amendment moved by Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy and Congress MP Sushmita Dev to make it religion and country neutral.
“I have moved an amendment that no specific religion or country should be named. Instead of that the Bill should say that any person who leaves his country due to religious, linguistic and ethnic discrimination should be eligible for Indian citizenship as stipulated in the amended Bill,” Mr. Roy told The Hindu .
Mr Roy said that it should be made country neutral too. “Why only Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in the past we have had refugees seeking asylum from Sri Lanka and Myanmar too. Instead of listing the countries it should be made neutral,” he added.
A senior government official said that as many as 18 amendments were moved in the 30-member committee comprising 13 BJP MPs.
The Biju Janata Dal has two members and AIADMK has one member.
Both the parties have maintained a neutral stand helping the ruling BJP.
“One of the MPs moved an amendment to drop Bangladesh from the Bill and only include Pakistan and Bangladesh,” said the official.
The official said that voting on amendments will be taken up at the next sitting. “We have discussed each of the amendment in detail today. I will try to build a consensus, if that is not possible then there will be a voting. Our attempt would be to submit the report in the winter session of Parliament,” committee chairperson Rajendra Agarwal said.
The committee was formed in 2016 and its term will end with the 16th Lok Sabha in May 2019. “The amendments are basically a polite way of tearing up the Bill,” an opposition MP said.