The citizenship laws of any federal republic and amendments to them have to ensure that such laws and amendments are uniform for the entire country and do not in any way have a special impact on just one State. And when we have in mind a secular democratic republic, it is imperative that any amendments to citizenship laws are not religion-specific or language-specific. The present Union government seems to have landed itself in deep waters with its proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 that would violate not only the provisions of the Assam Accord but will run into conflict with several judgements of the Supreme Court relating to citizenship. On Monday, the Joint Parliamentary Committee entrusted with the responsibility of examining the proposed amendment Bill, held consultations with constitutiol experts regarding the legal provisions of the Bill. The committee, chaired by Satyapal Singh, includes several MPs from Assam like Bhubaneswar Kalita, Ramen Deka, Kamakhya Prasad Tisa and Sushmita Dev. Monday’s meeting was also attended by top officials of the Cabinet Secretariat and the Intelligence Bureau besides the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to available reports, constitutiol experts TK Viswathan and Subhash Kashyap made three broad observations before the committee. They pointed out that the proposed amendment Bill would violate the Assam Accord. The Assam Accord may not be a part of the law of the land in terms of Article 13 of the Constitution, but it has been given its due status and importance in matters related to Assam. Secondly, the experts were of the view that the Bill was a ‘badly drafted’ piece of legislation, and if passed by Parliament, would also imply amendment of the Assam Accord. Thirdly, if passed, the proposed Bill would be in violation of numerous judgements of the Supreme Court which had ruled that citizenship cannot be granted on the basis of religion. An MP who was part of the committee has said that it had repeatedly sought clarification from the government on whether they wanted to amend the Assam Accord, but has got no response. Apparently, the committee has decided to summon the Chief Secretary of Assam and the State Coorditor for the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) to explain the ground realities in Assam vis-à-vis the illegal immigrants. The constitutiol experts are reported to have explained that Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution clearly state that citizenship cannot be given on the basis of religion. Besides, the Supreme Court has also passed several judgements in this regard. It will also have an impact on the Assam Accord, which is part of the Citizenship Act as Section 6A. It is therefore quite possible that as soon as the proposed Bill is passed the Supreme Court will strike it down.
What the Union government seems to have totally overlooked is the injustice that the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act will do to States like Assam that already have thousands of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh who have been living illegally in the States for several years. The proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 will legalize their presence in the States and eble them to be Indian citizens residing in these States without having to make any further moves for legalizing their illegal entries. The Bill will also seriously jeopardise the delicate demographic structure of these States. We already have the example of Tripura that has been virtually taken over by immigrants from Bangladesh who run the government today. The indigenous citizens of Tripura have been pushed into becoming second-class citizens of the State. The grant of Indian citizenship to all Hindu migrants from Bangladesh and other countries to Assam will seriously and irreparably damage the demographic structure of the State.
Besides the provisions of Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution, we also have the constraints of a secular democratic republic to contend with. How can a secular country make distinctions about granting Indian citizenship to people of some religious faiths and not to others? What credentials would we have to call India a secular republic after that? And would it not call for an amendment to our Constitution so that we drop all claims about being secular? Twenty-eight organizations of tribals and other citizens of Assam have warned the Centre against any steps to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus of other countries and thereby to put an additiol huge burden of foreign tiols on the people of Assam. Any democratic government that respects the will of the people will refrain from granting Indian citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh and thereby doing grave injustice to the people of Assam. And if the Centre insists on going through with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 even in the face of the strong opposition to it from the people of Assam, it should find ways of ensuring that such people granted high-speed citizenships are made to move to other States of India in all fairness to the people of Assam.