New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 that seeks to remove hurdles in eligible migrants from six minority groups from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan getting Indian citizenship despite opposition by various political parties including Congress and Trinamool Congress.
As the Congress and the TMC's demand for sending the Bill again to a parliamentary panel was rejected by the government, they staged a walkout.
Responding to a discussion over the Bill, Home Minister Rajnath Singh clarified that the Bill was not confined to Assam but would apply to all states and Union Territories.
"The burden of these persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone would not have to bear the entire burden and the government is committed to provide all help to the state government and people of Assam," he said.
Dispelling the misgivings about Citizenship Amendment Act, he highlighted the discrimination and religious persecution faced by minority communities in those countries.
"They have no place to go to, except India. The Bill will provide relief to persecuted migrants who have come through western borders of the country to states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and others," he added.
Soon after the Bill was moved, leader of Congress in the House Mallikarjun Kharge said that his party has several reservations on the Bill.
"It has several shortcomings. It is dangerous for the unity and integrity of the country. There is no respect for Assam Accord. It is also a constitutional matter, so resend it to a select committee.
"If you do not, we have no other option but to walk out from the House," he said and led the party members to a walkout.
The Bill seeks to enable Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh without valid travel documents or those whose valid documents expired in recent years to acquire Indian citizenship through the process of naturalisation.
Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy slammed the Bill, saying it is "divisive."
"If it is passed, it will cause fires in the north-east including Assam...Withdraw this Bill. If you can't do it, reconstitute the committee," he said.
He accused the government action was the "worst" example of "vote bank" politics.
Roy said there was no effort to evolve a consensus in the Joint Committee of Parliament that examined the Bill.
"The committee did not go to all places so this Bill is incomplete," he said, adding the party lacked numbers in the panel but it articulated its view point.
He also said that Muslims have been left out of the minorities covered under the Bill's provisions.
"Make this a secular Bill. Anybody who has come and faced religious prosecution should be accommodated," he said, adding that minorities from Nepal and Sri Lanka should also be included in the Bill. Roy and other members of the Trinamool Congress then staged a walkout.
Earlier, moving the Bill for passage, Rajnath Singh said it would help the migrants facing religious prosecution in the three countries get citizenship of the country.
He said religious minorities in Pakistan have been facing systematic discrimination and, though the present governments in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, were committed to the welfare of the minorities, they have faced problems in the past.
He said no other country except India could have provided interim protection from punitive legal action to minorities facing difficulties in the neighbouring countries.
Singh said the BJP-led government had eased visa norms for such migrants in 2015-16 but they could not apply for Indian citizenship as they were regarded as "illegal migrants."
"Such migrants can apply for citizenship now. The Centre can decide on their citizenship after getting necessary information," he said.
He said the Bill not only applies to Assam but to the entire country and such migrants were in several other states.
"The responsibility is of the entire country. The burden of Assam is that of the entire country," he said.
Singh said the Modi government had taken steps to properly implement the provisions of the Assam accord and was effectively implementing the National Register of Citizens.
"We are committed to completing the process. As I said earlier, no Indian citizen will be excluded," he said.
The minister said that not much was done over the past 35 years to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which provides for taking steps to promote the social, cultural and linguistic identity of the state. "But our government is committed to it," he said.