The Centre is set to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the winter session of Parliament as protests in Assam and Northeast by people opposed to it intensified. Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday indicated that the contentious bill, which has already been passed in Lok Sabha, would be tabled in the Rajya Sabha by December 10. “The bill would be tabled in Parliament by December 10. We are hopeful that it will be passed,” said Sarma in Delhi.
“Before the Bill is passed, Assam and the indigenous people of the state will be given constitutional safeguard,” he added, also emphasising that the Centre would implement every recommendation by the high-level committee on Clause 6 of 1985 Assam Accord, “without changing a comma or full stop”.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is also the Convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) reiterated that the special provisions in Citizenship Bill would not override the existing provisions in State Acts - indicating that the areas under Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime and those under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would not come under the ambit of the Bill.
The state minister also outlined the procedural rules under the Bill.
“After the implementation of Citizenship Bill, the applicants (non-Muslim minorities of neighbouring countries) will have to apply for citizenship within a year of its implementation. A self-submission is desired from the applicant stating that he/she suffered religious persecution at a particular location of the neighbouring country, and this will be later verified by the Indian embassy in Dhaka,” said Sarma.
On Saturday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah met political leaders and members of civil society organisations of Assam to discuss about the Bill. Earlier, he had a discussion on the Bill with the stakeholders and political parties of Tripura and Mizoram on Friday. In a final push, the Home Minister is also scheduled to hold talks with the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), on December 3.
“We are satisfied with the clarifications which the Union Home Minister made on the Citizenship Bill. We feel the people of the Northeast have nothing to be worried about,” said Rajya Sabha member from Assam Biswajit Daimary after a discussion with Shah.
However, various organisations in Assam who were present in the meeting with the Home Minister today believe that the tweaked version of the Bill would spell disaster for the state.
“We strongly oppose the Bill, and we have clearly stated that we will not accept anything that violates the Assam Accord,” said AAMSU Advisor Azizur Rahman.
“I would rather choose to die than accept the Citizenship Bill - it will be more dangerous for Assam if some states of the Northeast, which are protected by ILP (inner line permit) and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, are kept outside the purview of the Bill,” said RTI activist and leader of peasants’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee (KMSS), Akhil Gogoi.
“Quoting Amit Shah, Daimary said Clause 6 of the Assam Accord will be implemented prior to the Citizenship Bill’s passage. However, under this clause, there are no political and economic safeguards for Assam. Assam will not be safe even if Clause 6 is implemented without the implementation of Clause 5 which says the immigrants, who came after March 24, 1971, are not detected and deported,” Gogoi added.
Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) also said the party would keep opposing the bill which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to “persecuted” non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who migrated to India till December 31, 2014.
“We oppose the Citizenship Bill as it is based on religion. We ask the Union Home Minister as to how the government will know if people were religiously persecuted. What machine does it have to detect persecution? Who will give the data on the number of people who came to Assam before December 31, 2014?” the AIUDF asked.
The party said the Bill, if passed, would render the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) meaningless.
“If the Bill is passed, it will violate Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution,” the AIUDF added.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told journalists in Guwahati that the party would oppose the Bill as well as the country-wide NRC.