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Bangladesh question looms over Citizenship Bill

New Delhi: As the deadline for a joint committee of Parliament on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, nears an end, some members asked whether it was possible to present the Bill in a truncated form by excluding Bangladesh. The Bill proposes citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.
Violation of equality
The joint committee met on Tuesday to discuss the Bill, posing questions to the Ministries of Home, Foreign and Law whether the proposed law violated provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. One of the members also raised concerns if acknowledging the minorities from Bangladesh as “persecuted minorities” would hurt relations with the neighbouring country.
Another member said the draft legislation had unnecessarily led to a volatile situation in the northeast as Assam faced violent protests on Tuesday.
There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam as it seeks to grant citizenship to Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh. Several political and civil groups in Assam have said the Bill would pave the way for giving citizenship to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam that was in violation of the Assam Accord, 1985.
A source told The Hindu that BJP’s Rajendra Agrawal, chairperson of the joint committee, was keen that the report be submitted during the winter session of the Parliament, as the tenure of the committee would lapse.
“The report is being readied as we have to submit it this winter session. Practically, this is the last session of the current Lok Sabha … there is no scope for further extension to the committee. The committee can suggest amendments and it is up to the government to adopt or reject the recommendations,” said a member.
Another member said the report cannot be dictated to the members as many queries were yet to be answered to by the concerned ministries. “The committee cannot be dictated, we had many queries. The replies given by the three ministries were contradictory to each other. Partisan law cannot prevail in the country. The government informed us there is no law in the country with regard to migrants. If there is no law, how can you amend an Act for them?” asked the member.
A member from an Opposition party asked what defined religious persecution. “We asked the government if they could define persecution on the basis of religion. Was there a policy on refugees or migrants? In absence of it, the Bill proposes citizenship to six communities from three countries but excludes Muslims. It violates the Constitution,” the member said.
The Ministries have been asked to submit their replies by October 30.

 

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