The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (No.47 of 2019) that received the assent of the President of India on the 12th December, 2019, came into force on the 10th January, 2020 vide Govt. of India, Ministry of Home Affairs Notification S.O. No.172(E), dated the 10th January, 2020. This is an Act further to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 which elaborates in details on Short Title, Interpretation of the legal Terms, Methods for Acquisition of Citizenship, Termination of Citizenship, Deprivation of Citizenship, Supplemental Clauses including Power to make rules and Qualifications for Naturalisation.
2. Major Amendments Made:
(a) In the ‘Interpretation’, while describing about “illegal migrant” a proviso has been added - meaning a foreigner who has entered into India with a valid passport or other travel document or authority as may be prescribed by or under any law in that behalf but remains therein beyond the permitted period of time “Provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act;’.
(b) In relation to State of Assam, Special provisions as to citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord, (1985); in clause 6A, Citizenship by naturalisation of the principal Citizenship Act, 1955, a new clause 6B has been added which further allows the Central Government to grant certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation to migrants, legal or illegal, subject to fulfilment of certain conditions as mentioned above (2a) .
Secondly, an added clause 6B (4) reads – “Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area under “The Inner Line” notified under Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873.”.
(c) In the Third Schedule to the principal act in regard to ‘QUALIFICATIONS FOR NATURALISATION’, in clause (d) that during the fourteen years immediately preceding the said period of twelve months, he has either resided in India or been in the service under a Government in India, or partly the one and partly the other, for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than eleven years – (added further proviso under the amendment): - Provided that for the person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the aggregate period of residence or service of Government in India as required under this clause shall be read as “not less than five years” in place of “not less than eleven years”.
3. Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, 1985 [It is pertinent here to relate this clause of Assam Accord, 1985 as Rajbanshis of North Bengal or Koch Rajbanshis of Assam (who belong to same ethnic group) are affected by influx of migrants from Bangladesh]:
Signed between the Central Government and the leaders of All Assam Students Union (AASU), the accord came into existence after a six-year agitation demanding expulsion of illegal immigrants into the territory of Assam from neighbouring country Bangladesh.
The Clause reads – Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
4. CAA in the National Perspective:
India is already over populated country with a huge population over 133 crores. Bangladeshi migrants are mushrooming in and around all major cities and towns. Further inflow of migrants is not sustainable. At the same time, on humanitarian grounds, it is not advisable to deport the already settled migrants. In such a scenario, CAA allows migrants to settle down in India and applies a stop on further influx of migrants beyond the cutoff date, the 31st December, 2014.
5. CAA in the West Bengal Perspective:
There has been continuous influx of migrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh into West Bengal ever since partition of India into two countries in 1947 – Pakistan and India on religion based two nation theory i.e. two major religions Hindu and Muslim. As greater opportunities are available in West Bengal, migrants of both religions are heading towards West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. It is likely that during the last decade, maximum number of migrants have entered West Bengal not only directly from Bangladesh but also through Assam as well. At number of places, borders with Bangladesh are porous and movements of both human and trafficking of cattle are a regular feature. Most of the migrants have already obtained required basic documents of citizens such as Aadhar Card, Ration Card, Voter Card and purchased properties in West Bengal. The refugee or migrant colonies in West Bengal have already been given due recognition by the State Government. Whether CAA is implemented in the State or not, it is almost humanely impossible to deport such a large number of people who, in all practical purposes, have already become citizens of India. If CAA is implemented, at least there will a stop on further influx of migrants from Bangladesh into West Bengal with a cutoff date of 31st December, 2014.
6. CAA in the Perspective of North Bengal in general and Rajbanshis in particular:
Rajbanshi group of people (Aborigines / ethnic people of different faith) are the majority in rural population in North Bengal and undivided Goalpara district of Assam (Lower Assam). Since the days of partition in 1947, there have been influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who have settled in vast areas of North Bengal. Rajbanshis who were the landowners in North Bengal have always been courteous and helpful to outside settlers. Poverty and illiteracy were two major factors that made poor Rajbanshis to sell their lands to the settlers on abnormally low cost.
Now, the influx of migrants is changing the demographic picture in North Bengal as it has done in lower Assam. In North Bengal alone, as per Newspaper agency reports, there are 55 to 60 lakhs of Bangladeshi migrants including so called ‘Matua’ community who have settled in North Bengal in recent years. These people have already obtained all the documents such as land deeds, Aadhar- Ration-Voter Cards. It is not advisable to deport all these people who have been welcomed by Rajbanshi group of people.
However, future of Rajbanshis of North Bengal looks bleak as economic, social, linguistic and political negligence are harming these sons of soil, immensely. If CAA is implemented, it will at least put a stop on further influx of illegal migration from Bangladesh with effect from 31st December, 2014 and, if not, the influx of migrants will continue unabated.
7. Constitutional Safeguards are needed for Rajbanshi Ethnic Group of People:
In Assam, Koch Rajbanshis have recently been assured by the State Government of giving ‘Kamatapur Autonomous Council’ in which they will have certain political and administrative rights. This step by the State Government has lessened the effects of CAA on a majority people of Assam as Koch Rajbanshis form the largest ethnic group in Lower Assam.
In North Bengal, similar measures including the following democratic constitutional welfare measures are suggested:
(a) Land rights to ‘sons of the soil’ i.e. Rajbanshis and all ethnic aborigines of all religions of the land of North Bengal to save them from outsider well to do settlers.
(b) Economic packages/facilities to these poor people such as housing, agricultural implements / aids, establishing shops/business/industries and job opportunities.
(c) Educational facilities as rate of illiteracy and school drop outs are maximum among these poor and downtrodden people.
(d) Mother tongue is like ‘Mothers’ Milk as it is widely believed. These group of people are divided into two groups as the State Government has given recognition their mother tongue in two different names - Rajbanshi and Kamatapuri as two different languages. This anomaly needs immediate correction. Only one name should be given such as Kamata-Rajbanshi and it should be included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India as about 2 crore people speak in this historic language.
(e) Political rights are must in a true democratic nation. While they are in majority in North Bengal, lower Assam and certain areas in Bihar, they have hardly any say in the State governance. In these States, leadership from mainstream community enjoy the power of corridors. Such aberrations need to be corrected through constitutional methods.