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The Minority Report

India Today logo India Today 18-06-2021 Rohit Parihar
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On May 28, the Centre issued a notification stating that collectors in 13 districts across Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab and home secretaries of Punjab and Haryana, have been given the power to grant citizenship to immigrants from any one of six minority religious communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This could benefit at least 30,000 legal non-Muslim immigrants living in India.

The notification read: "In exercise of powers conferred under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the Central Government hereby directs that powers exercisable by it for registration as citizen of India under Section 5, or for grant of certificate of naturalisation under section 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, in respect of any person belonging to minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, residing in the districts mentioned... and the states mentioned by the collectors...". The 13 districts include Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan; Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat; Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh; Faridabad in Haryana; and Jalandhar in Punjab.

Political observers have red-flagged the notification as "backdoor implementation" of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, the rules and regulations of which are yet to be framed by the ministry of home affairs (MHA). Immediately after the Centre's May 28 notification, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted: "Subterfuge. Rules under CAA-2019 not framed, yet the Centre issues gazette notification to implement it. Petitions challenging validity of the CAA remain unheard. Hope the SC takes this up promptly & stops backdoor implementation." On June 1, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) moved the Supreme Court challenging the notification on the ground that the Citizenship Act, 1955, does not make any distinction on the basis of religion. As per Section 5 (1) of the Act, the Centre may register an applicant as a citizen of India as long as s/he is not an illegal immigrant. The categories laid out for such persons to qualify for citizenship do not mention religion. The IUML further argued that the Centre was ignoring the Court's assurance to the party back in December 2019 (when the IUML had challenged the CAA's validity), that the staying of the CAA was not necessary at the time as the Rules of the new Act were yet to be framed.

The MHA responded with the reminder that citizenship is a Central subject and that it periodically delegates powers to states under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant citizenship to those eligible. The Centre filed an affidavit on June 14 in response to the IUML's plea, in which it said that the notification does not relate to CAA and is a "mere delegation of power vested with the Centre to local authorities". However, the classification of applicants on the basis of religion—and the exclusion of Muslims from the list—is a feature of the CAA and not the 1955 Act, under which the MHA says it has issued the May 28 notification.

In 2016, the Central government had, in a similar step, sought applications for naturalisation from members of these minority communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, living in 16 districts across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In 2018, the notification was extended for an indefinite period. The latest notification raises the total districts covered to 29 in nine states.

The MHA maintains that the latest notification will benefit only legal immigrants who have already applied for citizenship after a seven-year stay. On the other hand, the CAA will allow similar applications after a stay of five years, for those who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, but, controversially, only the six named religious communities will be eligible to apply.

The Supreme Court on June 15 said it would hear the plea challenging the Centre's May 28 notification after two weeks.

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