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With CAA rules nowhere in sight, Centre allows 5 states to implement religion-based citizenship

The new notification empowers the collectors of 13 districts — and the home secretaries in Punjab & Haryana — to accept, verify and ultimately grant religion-based citizenship.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government issued a gazette notification Friday empowering authorities in 13 more districts — in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab — to grant citizenship to minority communities hailing from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh under the existing rules.

However, this isn’t the first time that state officials have been empowered to grant citizenship to minorities from neighbouring countries. In 2018, the Modi government had empowered the collectors and home secretaries of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

The latest move came even as the Centre sought more time earlier this month to frame the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rules.

According to the notification, the collectors of the specified districts — and the home secretaries in Punjab and Haryana — will be empowered to accept, verify and ultimately grant citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian applicants, who hail from the three countries mentioned above.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the Central Government hereby directs that powers exercisable by it, for registration as a citizen of India under section 5, or for grant of certificate of naturalisation under section 6, of the Citizenship Act, 1955, in respect of any person belonging to minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians… shall also be exercisable by the Collector, within whose jurisdiction the applicant is ordinarily resident,” the notification said.

Also read: Assam wants Hajela’s email password to probe late updates in NRC list, but he won’t share

18 months on, CAA rules yet to be framed

The five states have been empowered to give citizenship to minorities from neighbouring countries under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules, 2009, and not under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 since the rules for the latest law are yet to be framed.

Earlier this month, the Modi government sought an extension for the third time from the Parliament for framing the CAA rules on account of the Covid pandemic.

The CAA was a key point in the BJP’s manifesto in the recently-concluded state elections in West Bengal and Assam.

Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier this year said that the rules will be framed once the vaccination drive is concluded in the country.

While the controversial law was passed in Parliament in December 2019, and notified in January 2020, the rules, which are imperative for its implementation, have not been framed yet.

Usually, rules for an Act passed in the Parliament need to be notified within six months of its passage.

According to the Manual on Parliamentary Work, “statutory rules, regulations and bye-laws will be framed within a period of six months from the date on which the relevant statute came into force”.

If the ministries/departments are not able to frame the rules within the prescribed period of six months, “they should seek extension of time from the Committee on Subordinate Legislation stating reasons for such extension”, which cannot be more than for a period of three months at a time, it adds.

Under the CAA, people from six religions — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be granted citizenship, if they arrived in India before 31 December 2014.

The amendment to this effect, which was passed in December 2019, had triggered nationwide protests, as the Act was widely believed to be discriminatory against Muslims, and an attempt to define citizenship on the basis of religion in India.

Also read: How Himanta Biswa Sarma shook off Congress ‘snub’ and rose to become Assam CM


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