New Citizenship Law 2020 Explained

By Team Legal Helpline India, December 16, 2019

A brief write up on the New Citizenship Law and the New Citizenship Bill 2019 by our legal experts.

Before knowing the New Citizenship Law and the New Citizenship Bill 2019, we should know that The Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955) was enacted to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship.

This Act determines as well as regulates the status of a person coming to India to seek citizenship under any circumstances.

This Act has been amended several times to accommodate the then prevailing problems related to the acquisition of Indian Citizenship. The New Citizenship Law is a dynamic step towards the improvement of the same in the present context.

The New Citizenship Bill 2019 has been passed to incorporate all such requirements of the country.

ISSUE OF MIGRATION: New Citizenship Law

It is a historically established fact that trans-border migration of the population has been happening continuously between the territories of India and the areas presently comprised in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in the said areas of Pakistan and Bangladesh when India was partitioned in 1947.

The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific State religion as the religion of their country. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries.

Some of the non-Islamic religions also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life in those countries were the right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted.

Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.

The New Citizenship Law is an attempt to address this problem and to handle the situation.

Under the existing provisions of the Act, migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh who entered into India without valid travel documents or if the validity of their documents has expired are regarded as illegal migrants and ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship under section 5 or section 6 of the Act.

The said persons can be even prosecuted or ousted from India on legal grounds which may compound their sufferings. The new citizenship bill 2019 aims to reduce their sufferings and uncertainties.

The Benefits of New Citizenship Law 2019

Earlier taking into consideration the aforesaid facts, the  Central Government exempted the said migrants from the adverse penal consequences of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 and rules or orders made thereunder vide notifications, dated 07.09.2015 and dated 18.07.2016.

Subsequently, the Central Government also made them eligible for long term visa to stay in India, vide, orders dated 08.01.2016 and 14.09.2016. Now, it is proposed to make the said migrants eligible for Indian Citizenship under the New Citizenship Law.

Under the New Citizenship Law, the illegal migrants who have entered into India up to the cut of date of 31.12.2014 need a special regime to govern their citizenship matters.

For this purpose, the Central Government or an authority specified by it shall grant the certificate of registration or certificate of naturalization subject to such conditions, restrictions and manner as may be prescribed. Since many of them have entered into India long back, they may be given the citizenship of India from the date of their entry in India if they fulfill conditions for Indian citizenship specified in section 5 or the qualifications for the naturalization under the provisions of the Third Schedule to the Act.

The New Citizenship Law further seeks to grant immunity to the migrant of the aforesaid Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities so that any proceedings against them regarding in respect of their status of migration or citizenship does not bar them from applying for Indian citizenship.

The competent authority, to be prescribed under the Act, shall not take into account any proceedings initiated against such persons regarding their status as illegal migrant or their citizenship matter while considering their application under section 5 or section 6 of the Act, if they fulfill all the conditions for grant of citizenship.

Several persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the said minority communities from the aforesaid countries have been applying for citizenship under section 5 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 but they are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin.

Hence, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalization under section 6 of the said Act, which, inter alia, prescribe twelve years residency as a qualification for naturalization in terms of the Third Schedule to the Act.

This denies them many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently.

Therefore, it is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to the said communities from the aforesaid countries eligible for citizenship by naturalization if they can establish their residency in India for five years instead of the existing eleven years.

The New Citizenship Law is a positive and progressive step towards this direction which will provide valuable rights to such persons.

About Overseas Citizens –

At present, there is no specific provision in section 7D of the Act to cancel the registration of Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder who violates any provisions of the Act or any other law for the time being in force. It is also proposed to amend the said section 7D under the New Citizenship Law so as to empower the Central Government to cancel registration as Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder in case of violation of any provisions of the Act or any other law for the time being in force.

Since there is no specific provision in the Act at present to provide an opportunity of being heard to the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder before cancellation of the Overseas Citizen of India Card under section 7D, it is proposed to provide the opportunity of being heard to the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder before the cancellation of the Overseas Citizen of India Card under the New Citizenship Law.

The New Citizenship Law of 2019 further seeks to protect the constitutional guarantee given to indigenous populations of North Eastern States covered under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the statutory protection given to areas covered under “The Inner Line” system of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

The New Citizenship Law also being a dynamic step by the Government of India to deal with the influx of the prosecuted people from neighboring countries on the grounds of their religion is a bold and effective step towards safeguarding and regulating the religious refugees by way of better legislation. 

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