Tamil Nadu

Governor’s reference to ‘dual citizenship’ for Sri Lankan Tamils triggers debate

Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s address on the first day of the Assembly session on Monday

Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s address on the first day of the Assembly session on Monday   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Some experts point out that there is no sanction in the Constitution for dual citizenship

Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s address to the Assembly on Monday, in which he advocated dual citizenship for Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka living in Tamil Nadu, has triggered a debate on the advisability of such a proposal.

According to Prof. V. Suryanarayan, founding Director of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, the Governor could have avoided the reference in his customary address. Prof. Suryanarayan, who has been studying the subject for years, points out that there is no sanction in the country’s Constitution for dual citizenship. The Centre may never agree to the idea, he feels.

It is for the first time that the matter was included in the Governor’s address, even though it was floated by former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in April 2016 during her campaign for the Assembly elections. But, the issue did not figure in the address of Governor K. Rosaiah in June 2016 to the Assembly, despite Jayalalithaa retaining power. However, it was included in the memorandum submitted by Jayalalithaa to Prime Minister Narendra Modi around the same time.

The rationale behind the demand is to help the refugees get employment or run businesses in the country “without any hindrance.” Since then, the issue has been raised by her successors, O. Panneerselvam and Edappadi K. Palaniswami.

In the light of recent criticism by the Opposition on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act excluding from its ambit the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, Mr. Palaniswami raised the issue during his meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah.

To substantiate his position that the Governor should have avoided the reference, Prof. Suryanarayan recalls instances wherein Governors of other States did not toe fully with the text of what their State governments had prepared. To illustrate a few cases, in March 1969, the then West Bengal Governor Dharma Vira skipped portions of the address to the Assembly. In January 2018, Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam left out certain portions of his address which, he felt, used a strong language used against the Central government.

Naturalisation option

However, the academician strongly supports the idea of giving Indian citizenship to refugees who prefer it. He suggests: “If the Central government withdraws its instruction to the State government — issued first in 1983 and reiterated in 2007 — not to entertain applications for citizenship from the refugees, a large number of willing refugees will be eligible to apply for citizenship, under the option of naturalisation.”

Differing with him, former Madras High Court judge K. Chandru, says Governors can communicate objections to the governments if they feel certain references are not proper. However, once the text is approved finally, there is not much choice left for them.

Asked whether it is proper on the Governor’s part to refer to a matter, which falls exclusively under the domain of the Union government, Mr Chandru says that even on foreign policy or matters of international implications, the Tamil Nadu Assembly in the past adopted resolutions, some of which got included in the Governor’s addresses too. Recently, the Kerala Assembly adopted a resolution, calling upon the Centre to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Two prominent jurists, wishing to remain anonymous, say there is nothing wrong in such a reference, as such an address reflects “aspirations” of the State government. After all, the demand for dual citizenship is “only a recommendation” of the government, they add.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:58:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/governors-address-on-dual-citizenship-for-sri-lankan-tamils-triggers-debate/article30503433.ece

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