New Delhi: Amid continued protests across the nation on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a clarification that fear of the CAA followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will disenfranchise Muslims is misplaced.
The contentious Act that excludes Muslims from a faster and simpler process to acquire citizenship was recently passed by both houses of Parliament.
It has spawned fears that in combination with the NRC, it could lead to Muslims falling through the cracks and becoming stateless, although the government has repeatedly asserted that no Indian of any religion would be affected by CAA.
Top MHA officials said the Citizenship Act, 1955, and the subsequent amendments make it clear who can be an Indian citizen and the CAA, 2019, in no way alters that definition.
‘There is no intent anywhere to throw out people arbitrarily. It is not even possible under the Indian law,’ a senior official said.
The ministry pointed out to the annexures of the Citizenship Rules, 2009, which list five categories of Indian citizens, while adding the same would be considered during the proposed pan-India NRC exercise.
The categories are as followed:
1) If born in India on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987;
2) If born in India on or after July 1, 1987, but before Dec 3, 2004, and where either of parents is a citizen of India at the time of your birth…
3) If born in India on or after December 3, 2004, if both the parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of your birth.
MHA officials said that provisions are there in law even for those born outside India and these too will be included in the proposed NRC. The provision is if born outside India on or after Jan 26, 1950, but before Dec 10, 1992, if the person’s father was a citizen of India by birth at the time of his or her birth.
A person born outside India on or after December 3, 2004, shall not be a citizen of India, unless the parents declare that the minor does not hold passport of another country and his birth is registered at an Indian consulate within one year of birth, the MHA said.
Officials said that final rules for implementation of the NRC are still being worked out but any citizen who falls in the above category has nothing to fear provided they have the documents to prove the same.
“Birth certificate or some kind of municipal certificate should be enough to show Citizenship under NRC,” an MHA official said, adding Aadhaar, voter ID card or passport cannot be treated as citizenship document. “These are either travel documents or documents to show residency in India,” he said.
The official said the law provides for a national identity card under Section 14A of the Citizenship Act and that card could be issued after the NRIC to all those who make it to NRIC.
The MHA also tried to dispel anxiety among CAA protestors who are apprehending a situation similar to Assam following the NRC exercise once it is implemented nationally.
“The Assam NRC was different because it was governed by Assam Accord and had a cut-off date of 1971. All-India NRC will be under the Citizenship Act where provisions of naturalization and birth already protect citizens,” the official said.
Government officials also said that it is not as if any Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will automatically get citizenship.
“They will have to prove persecution. We are still formulating rules on how that will be done. One suggestion is to take an affidavit which was the mechanism in the 2004 amendment,” the officer said, adding the government was open to accepting suggestions for CAA rules which are still being framed.
The MHA spokesperson has also put out a thread on Twitter to explain the provisions of the CAA.
When asked about some chief ministers stating that they would not implement the CAA in their states, the MHA said state governments do not have the option of doing that. An official said that since citizenship was a central subject, states have no power on granting or not granting it.
He also pointed out that National Population Register was also out of the ambit of the states. Recently, the exercise of collecting data has been suspended till further orders in West Bengal.
“West Bengal cannot unilaterally put on hold NPR…it is as per law…no state can stop it. Can a state tomorrow say we will not implement Census? That and NPR are both as per law passed by Parliament,” he said.
This is the first response from the MHA after the process was put on hold in Bengal. The data from NPR could be the basis of all-India NRC which West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is opposed to.
West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Punjab have refused to implement CAA on grounds that the new law is unconstitutional and together with NRC it is anti-Muslim. Officials said role of the states is limited to forwarding citizenship applications to the Centre which takes the final call.
Officials said they were mulling the idea of appointing a central functionary instead of the collector for implementing the new law.
“Provision for notifying a separate authority given in the CAA… Earlier, we had delegated this power to collector, but we can now look afresh… A central government official is likely to be notified,’ an official said. According to CAA rules, applications could be taken online which too would reduce the role of the collector, he added.
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