Centre notifies CAA rules

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

The Ministry of Home Affairs notified the rules for implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, enacted by Parliament in December 2019.

Background

The Citizenship law

  • In December 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to The Citizenship Act, 1955, to include a provision for grant of citizenship to migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities who entered India before December 31, 2014 from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh.
  • In essence, the amendment relaxed the eligibility criteria for certain classes of migrants (on religious lines) from three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries. 
    • Certain categories of areas, including tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, and areas protected by the ‘Inner Line’ system, were exempted from the purview of the CAA.
    • The colonial concept of Inner Line separates the tribal-majority hills of the Northeast from the plains areas. 
    • To enter and stay in these areas, an Inner Line Permit (ILP) is needed.
  • The law was notified on January 10, 2020 amidst protests around the country, particularly in Assam, but could not be implemented in the absence of the Rules.
  • On May 28, 2021, the central government issued an order under Section 16 The Citizenship Act, 1955, giving district collectors in 13 districts with high migrant populations the power to accept citizenship applications from groups identified in the 2019 amendment.
  • The 39-page Rules notified in the e-gazette prescribe the modalities and procedure for eligible individuals to apply for Indian citizenship. 
    • The Rules specify what documents and paperwork are required for putting forward and considering a claim of citizenship.

The Process

  • Who can apply for citizenship under CAA 2019? 
    • Individuals who migrated to India before December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh due to “religious persecution" and belong to six religious minorities- Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian are eligible to get citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019.
  • How to apply for citizenship under CAA 2019?
    • The applicant shall submit an application for registration or naturalisation under section 6B in electronic form to the Empowered Committee through the District Level Committee as may be notified by the Central Government.
    • On submission of the application, an acknowledgement in Form IX shall be generated electronically.
    • The District Level Committee headed by the Designated Officer, as may be specified, shall verify the documents submitted by the applicant along with the application.
    • The Designated Officer shall administer to the applicant the oath of allegiance as specified in the Second Schedule to the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955) and thereafter, sign the oath of allegiance and forward the same in electronic form along with confirmation regarding verification of documents to the Empowered Committee.
    • In case an applicant fails to appear in person to subscribe to the application and take the oath of allegiance despite giving reasonable opportunities, the District Level Committee shall forward such application to the Empowered Committee for consideration of refusal.
    • The Empowered Committee referred to in rule 11A may scrutinise the application for grant of citizenship by registration or naturalisation submitted by an applicant under Section 6B to ensure that the application is complete in all respects and that the applicant satisfies all the conditions laid down in Section 6B.
    • The Empowered Committee may grant the applicant the citizenship of India if it is satisfied after making such inquiry as it considers necessary for ascertaining the applicant’s suitability that he is a fit and proper person to be registered or naturalised, as the case may be.
  • Requirement of special documents
    • Moreover, the rules mention two additional documents other than those in Section 6B of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rules. 
    • These are:
      • An affidavit verifying the correctness of the statements made in the application, along with an affidavit from an Indian citizen testifying the character of the applicant.
      • A declaration from the applicant that he has adequate knowledge of one of the languages as specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.

The rule of delay in implementation:

  • Even after the law was passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019, and notified within 24 hours, CAA could not come into effect as rules were not notified . 
  • According to the parliamentary procedure, the rules for any legislation should be framed within six months of presidential assent, or else an extension is needed from the Committees on Subordinate Legislation in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. 
  • The Union home ministry took extensions at regular intervals from the committees for framing the rules.

Significant of CAA

  • CAA removes legal barriers to rehabilitation and citizenship to members of these six communities. 
    • It will give a dignified life to refugees who have suffered for decades, and such citizenship rights will protect their cultural, linguistic, and social identity. 
    • It will also ensure economic, commercial, free movement, and property purchase rights.

Challenges:

  • The legal challenge
    • The amendment was challenged before the Supreme Court in 2020 by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Since then, more than 200 petitions have been filed and tagged with the IUML’s challenge.
  • The right to equality
    • The challenge to the CAA rests on the ground that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which says that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. 
      • The petitioners’ argue that using religion as a qualifier or a filter violates the fundamental right to equality.
    • The petitioners have argued that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam to identify illegal immigrants, along with the CAA, will result in the targeting of Muslims.
    • The court will have to look into whether the special treatment given to the so-called “persecuted minorities” from the three Muslim-majority neighbouring countries only is a reasonable classification under Article 14 for granting citizenship, and whether the state is discriminating against Muslims by excluding them.
    • The Supreme Court has held that the law has to clear two legal hoops to pass the equality test when it is challenged on the grounds of Article 14. First, any differentiation between groups of persons must be founded on an “intelligible differentia”, and second, “that differentia must have a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the Act”.
    • The government has said that Muslims have been excluded from the group of “persecuted” minorities because Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are Islamic countries where Muslims are in majority. 
      • However, it will be tested whether these three countries were picked essentially to keep Muslims out — this is because groups like Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, the Rohingya in Myanmar, or minority Muslim sects like Ahmadiyyas and Hazaras are also persecuted minorities in these countries.
  • There is also the larger issue of whether making religion a ground for eligibility for citizenship violates secularism, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.
  • The CAA and Assam
    • Apart from the equality argument, part of the challenge to the CAA also rests on the fate of Section 6A of The Citizenship Act, 1955, which too is under challenge before the SC.
    • In December 2023, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud reserved its verdict on the validity of Section 6A, which was introduced in the Citizenship Act after the signing of the Assam Accord between the Centre and the leaders of the Assam movement in August 1985.
    • The Accord determines who is a foreigner in the state of Assam. 
      • Clause 5 of the Accord states that January 1, 1966 shall serve as the base cut-off date for the detection and deletion of “foreigners”, but there are provisions for the regularisation of those who arrived in the state after that date, and upto March 24, 1971. 
      • This was also the basis of the final NRC published in 2019.
    • Section 6A of the Act allows foreign migrants who came to Assam after January 1, 1966 but before March 25, 1971, to seek Indian citizenship. 
      • If the effective cut off date of March 24, 1971 is upheld by the SC as the cut-off date for entry into the state, the CAA could fall foul of the Assam Accord, since it creates a different timeline.

Government legal defence:

  • In its submission to the Supreme Court, the government has maintained that there are sound reasons and a valid exercise of legislative powers to pick communities as well as choose only certain countries to bring within the fold of CAA. It added that the subject matter is outside the realm of judicial review.
    • Indigenous groups in the northeast have opposed CAA saying it could lead to an influx of undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.
  • Meanwhile, undocumented migrants who do not belong to the six communities, have raised the prospect of the law being used to target them. 
  • The home ministry has maintained that CAA has nothing to do with deportation of any foreigner from India. “The deportation process of any foreigner irrespective of his religion or country is implemented as per the mandate of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and/or The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
    • These two laws govern entry, stay, movement within India and exit from India of all foreigners irrespective of their religion or country. Therefore, the usual deportation process would apply to any illegal foreigner staying in India.

Committee:

  • MHA issued a separate notification for the formation of an empowered committee and district level committees to grant citizenship under CAA.
  • The empowered committees in the states or Union territories shall be headed by the director (census operations) of the state or Union territory concerned.
    • It shall consist of members including an officer in the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau not below the rank of deputy secretary, jurisdictional Foreigners Regional Registration Officer, the State Informatics Officer of National Informatics Centre of the State or Union Territory concerned; PostmasterPost Master General of the State or Union Territory concerned. 
    • It is said that a from the office of Principal Secretary (Home) or Additional Chief Secretary (Home) of the State Government or Union Territory concerned and representative of jurisdictional Divisional Railway Manager of Railways can be invitees in the committee.
  • District committees will be headed by the jurisdictional senior superintendent or superintendent of post.
  • The empowered committee can make an inquiry it considers necessary for ascertaining the suitability of the applicant, including obtaining a report from the security agency.

Conclusion: 

Therefore, the new CAA rule will provide the guidelines for getting Indian citizenship. Though there will be some issues and challenges in implementing the rule but with proper planning it can be implemented. Hence, the Government should take every community in confidence and also try to make every step transparent going forward.