Earlier this week, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) amended the Citizenship Act, 1955, to give district collectors in the Mehsana and Anand districts of Gujarat the power to grant citizenship to migrants from the six minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The defined groups are Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi reacted to the MHA notification, saying that this law should be made religion-neutral to include Muslim citizens from the three countries as well.
ANI quoted Owaisi saying, “It is already happening that you first give the long-term VISA and then they (minority community of Afghanistan) get citizenship.”
While Owaisi added that he could not comment more since the matter is still subjudice, he stated, “Citizenship Amendment Act has to be linked with the National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).”
“Supreme Court is hearing this, let’s see what happens,” he added.
The AIMIM chief went on to criticise the BJP for forming a committee to try and implement the Uniform Civil Code in Gujarat before the state election, saying that its purpose was to hide the government’s failures and wrong decisions.
“Why Hindu undivided family tax rebate is given only to Hindus. Give it to Muslims also, it is against the fundamental right of the Right to Equality of the constitution,” he said.
A similar order was issued by the MHA in 2016, 2018, and 2021, empowering district magistrates and collectors to grant citizenship certificates to migrants from the six minority communities, who entered India with valid documents. This is not the first time that district magistrates or collectors have been delegated such powers. State officials are sometimes entrusted with the duty to exercise citizenship power by the MHA as a central subject.
On December 11, 2019, the Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, and President Ram Nath Kovind at the time, approved it the next day. As the country was going through its worst-ever health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry requested the Parliamentary Committees of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha to give it some more time to implement the rules after the Act came into force on January 10, 2020. However, since the Act is still under heavy debate, the recent notification was issued under the 1955 legislation.
The October 31 notification intends to benefit those legal migrants (who entered on passport/visa) from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have already applied for citizenship under section 5 (by registration) and section 6 (naturalisation) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
A similar extension had been sought six times before by the MHA from the Parliamentary Committees. In June 2020, the CAA rules were notified for the first time. The Opposition vehemently criticised the law, alleging a communal agenda behind it by pointing out its “conspicuous exclusion” of Muslims.
In light of repeated statements by Home Minister Amit Shah before the CAA was passed, regarding the preparation of a nationwide National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) to identify illegal immigrants, the legislation has been interpreted to mean that it intends to disenfranchise Muslims.
A few states were quick to announce that they won’t implement the law even if it is implemented by the Centre. The CAA has not yet been put into effect. In accordance with the Manual on Parliamentary Work, in the event that the Ministries/Departments are unable to draft the rules within the allotted six months following Presidential approval, they must “seek an extension of time from the Committee on Subordinate Legislation stating reasons for such extension”, which cannot be granted for longer than three months at a time.
The central government has already stated that Indian citizenship will only be awarded to CAA-qualifying beneficiaries after the rules governing the legislation are revealed. The CAA’s goal is to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who arrived in India on December 31, 2014, including Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Hindus. They won’t be treated as undocumented residents or granted Indian citizenship.