Lok Sabha passes citizenship bill amid opposition protest
Opposition parties may push for the bill to be referred to a select panel for review
New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, despite a backlash from opposition parties and unrest in Assam, just a day after the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) pulled out of its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam.
The bill will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha for discussion, with the upper chamber extending its winter session till Wednesday.
The opposition in the Rajya Sabha has raised objections to the proposed amendment in the bill, which excludes Muslims and minorities from Nepal and Sri Lanka. Opposition parties are thus likely to push for the bill to be referred to a select committee before it is discussed in the Rajya Sabha.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh, however, said the bill does not discriminate on religious lines. Contrary to what people in Assam believed, the proposed amendment would not put the burden of migrants solely on Assam, he said.
“This is not just for Assam, but this is valid for all states and Union territories as well and neither is this for people of one particular country. This amendment is for migrants who have come through eastern borders and staying in different parts of India as well. The responsibility will not be Assam’s alone and whatever steps are needed to be taken, the centre will take,” Singh informed the Lok Sabha.
A strike was announced across the North-East on Tuesday, with sporadic episodes of violence reported in Assam, even as Singh tried to placate sections of the opposition and ethnic Assamese groups who have been protesting against the bill.
“In some areas some vehicles have been damaged but we are keeping the situation under control,” said a senior Assam police official.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 labels a person an “illegal immigrant” if they have entered India without travel documents or overstayed the date specified in the travel documents. The purpose of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 is to provide Indian citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries, primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“They can apply for citizenship and can stay in any state in India. Assam has been grappling with illegal migration for a while. The Assam Accord was signed on 15 August 1985 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was also launched to tackle the problem of illegal migration. There is a belief that the Accord has not been implemented properly. We have not only implemented NRC in a time-bound manner but are also working tirelessly to implement the Accord effectively,” Singh said.
Citizenship would only be given to people after scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the state government, the home minister said. The bill was introduced in 2016 and was later sent to the joint parliamentary committee, which submitted its report on Monday.
The cabinet also approved granting Scheduled Tribe status to six communities of Assam —including Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Tea Tribes, Moran, and Matak.
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