By tweaking a variety of rules, the centre has, since 2016, smoothened the path for easy entry of 6 religious minorities from 3 countries
Did the mention of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, pop up first in the Citizenship Amendment Bill this December?
The Lede has found references to the six minority religious communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in many official orders granting them preferences since 2016.
This confirms that much before the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 was put forward before Parliament, many steps were taken at the administrative level itself, to give them preference for fast-tracked citizenship.
In 2016, a Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was introduced to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to make irregular migrants belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi and Christian religions from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh eligible for citizenship. It was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which submitted its report on 07 January 2019.
The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on 08 January 2019, and tabled in the Rajya Sabha. But it lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha, without much discussion.
However, The Lede found that the BJP-led central government had been working relentlessly to pave way for accommodating irregular migrants belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi and Christian religions from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in India. And at every step, they remained silent about Muslim irregular migrants.
Documents accessed by The Lede from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Reserve Bank of India confirm that.
Through a notification published in the Gazette on 08 September 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs amended Passport (Entry into India) Rules 1950 and Foreigners Order, 1948 and inserted a paragraph which reads that a person belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian, who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution and entered India on or before 31 December 2014, with or without passport and valid or expired travel documents shall be exempted from being considered as a foreigner.
Interestingly, in both amendments, minority communities from Bangladesh and Pakistan were only granted an exemption and the amendments remained silent on Muslim minorities.
And in 2016, again, the Passport (Entry into India) Rules 1950 was amended in July 2016 again and resubstituted the word Bangladesh into Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
And in February 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order on Long Term Visa (LTV) regarding those coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan on valid travel documents and seeking a permanent settlement in India to acquire Indian citizenship.
In the order, the MHA says that members of the six minority communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be eligible for Long Term Visa.
The order also says that Pakistan and Bangladesh women married to Indian nationals and staying in India and Afghanistan nationals married to Indian nationals in India & staying in India are also eligible to get Long Term Visa.
LTV is granted for five years at a time.
Interestingly, the order also states that the non-renewal fine of LTV was also reduced.
The fine for LTV non-renewal up to 90 days was reduced to Rs 100 from Rs 1950.
The fine between 91 days and up to 2 years was around Rs 8450 (at USD 1 = Rs 65) and it was reduced to Rs 200.
And for non-renewal of LTV for more than two years, the fine was approximately Rs 14,950 (at USD 1 = Rs 65) and it was reduced to Rs 500.
On 26 March 2018, the Foreign Exchange Management (Acquisition and Transfer of Immovable Property in India) Regulations, 2018 order from RBI mentions that the same six minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can buy immovable property in India.
The RBI says that the authority has issued the notice with its powers conferred by the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (42 of 1999), and in supersession of Notification No FEMA 21/2000-RB dated May 3, 2000.
The 2000 regulations had stated that “No person being a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Nepal or Bhutan without prior permission of the Reserve Bank shall acquire or transfer immovable property in India, other than lease, not exceeding five years.”
This was amended and eased in 2018.
The 2018 regulation says that “A person being a citizen of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan belonging to minority communities in those countries, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who are residing in India and has been granted a Long Term Visa (LTV) by the Central Government may purchase only one residential immovable property in India as dwelling unit for self-occupation and only one immovable property for carrying out self-employment.”
On 09 November 2018, an RBI notification stated that the six minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh can open an NRO account.
The notification reads that “A person being a citizen of, Bangladesh or Pakistan belonging to minority communities in those countries, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who is residing in India and has been granted a Long Term Visa (LTV) by the Central Government is permitted to open with an authorized dealer only one NRO Account. The said NRO account shall be converted to a resident account once the person becomes a citizen of India within the meaning of the Citizenship Act, 1955.”
The notification was brought in by amending the 2016 FEMA notification.
The 2016 notification had no specific detail. It had only stated that “No person resident in India shall accept any deposit from, or make any deposit with, a person resident outside India.”
Talking to The Lede, Subash Chandran, a Supreme Court lawyer, who has also filed a writ petition in the apex court against the CAA 2019, said that even though the government had failed in 2016 in Parliament in ushering in a new Citizenship Act, the documents reveal that at administrative level, it has been moving at a good pace.
“Like the CAA 2019, unfortunately, the government’s administrative moves are also discriminative. Everywhere, the government has remained silent about the Muslim migrants. We should not forget that there were 500,000 Muslim migrants in the NRC list of Assam, who are now detained and facing deportation,” Subash added.
According to Subash, when NPR (National Population Register) is done by and NRC is created, many who fall in the disputed category may need a bank account, land deed documents to prove that they are here in India and want to become Indian citizens.
“Six minorities, excluding Muslims, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, will be able to provide bank account details and land deed details as the government has made facilities for that. But what about Muslims who fall in the disputed list? All government orders remain silent about Muslims. This is an unfortunate situation,” Subash said adding that he is surprised at how RBI can issue such discriminatory notifications.
KVS Haridas, former Janmabhoomi Editor and a right wing political supporter, said that neither CAA nor NRC has anything to do with Muslims in India.
“CAA 2019 will be giving citizenship for persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Muslims are not persecuted minorities there. Are they? No. So, that’s the reason why they are not being mentioned in the CAA 2019,” Haridas told The Lede adding that opposition parties and Leftist and Islamic media are misleading public in both India and especially in Kerala.
“They have created unnecessary fear among Muslims in the country,” he added.
On the NRC, Haridas said that the Assam NRC was done under the supervision of Supreme Court and even then right wing supporters feel that something has gone wrong and it has to be fixed.
While asked whether, the CAA and NRC is dividing people on the basis of religion, he said that those who are and are able to show legal identities have nothing to worry.
“Those who don’t have enough papers to prove their identity, then they have to face the legal consequences,” he added.
Meanwhile, while commenting on NRC, CAA and Uniform Civil Code, Rahul Easwar, a right wing activist, said all the three will destroy the uniformity of India.
“India is a land of pluralism. This (CAA, NRC and UCC) is going to divide people and create tensions. We need Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. The wordings used in the text of new laws are aggressive. And what BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah is doing is dog-whistle politics, which is unfortunately going to hurt the communal fabric of India,” he added.