The Union Cabinet has cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there.
Information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar made the announcement on Wednesday after the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A bill to amend the the Citizenship Act, 1955,will now be introduced in the Parliament in the current session.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 and grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It is aimed at providing citizenship to six communities— Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis.
The CAB was among the electoral promises of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre argues that CAB is necessary to help members of the minority communities who may be facing religious persecution.
On Tuesday, defence minister Rajnath Singh, in an address to BJP parliamentarians, had said the bill will be placed before the House soon.
He said the CAB is an important move by the government like the August 5 decision to nullify Article 370 of the constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. CAB 2019 proposes a cut-off date of December 31, 2014.
The minister dismissed the Opposition's objections over the bill and said the BJP had always worked to unite the country. "If religious minorities are being persecuted in those countries, it is our duty to deliver justice to them. It is not linked to any religion," Singh said.
Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Left are among parties which have opposed the Bill. The CAB is expected to be passed in the Lok Sabha but may find it tough in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA is in a minority.
The opposition parties have argued that the Constitution does not allow granting of citizenship on the basis of religion.
There have been opposition to the CAB in the northeastern states, which have seen widespread protests. The main apprehension in the region is over the large number of Hindus who have migrated to the northeast over the years.
In Assam, the CAB has raised concerns that it would nullify the 1985 Assam Accord, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
In Mizoram, there is has been opposition because the amendment would make Buddhist Chakma refugees Indian citizens. There were protests in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura too.
Home minister Amit Shah had met some stakeholders from the northeast after the protests and is slated to meet others to allay their fears on the controversial citizenship legislation.
The CAB was passed by the Lok Sabha in the previous term of the BJP-led government but it wasn't introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
The bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha. There could be changes to the cut-off date of December 31, 2014 in the fresh bill, officials have said.