Few changes that govt could make in contentious citizenship amendment bill

File photo: People in Assam protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill

The government may bring some changes in the contentious citizenship amendment bill, which lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha, by incorporating a few new provisions, including defining the term "illegal immigrants", officials said.

The bill seeks to amend Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who come to India after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan even if they don't possess proper documents.

This was an election promise of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

"There will be some changes in the new draft. The work on the draft is still going on," an official privy to the development said.

Among the possible changes in the new draft include a clear categorisation of those who are the "illegal immigrants" and those who took shelter in India after facing religious persecution in the neighbouring countries.

As the government had recently found violation of Overseas Citizen of India card by a British-born writer, there is a possibility of incorporation of certain provisions in the new draft so that such violation could be detected and action taken, the official said.

"Consultations with a few stakeholders may take place soon," another official said.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion.

A large section of people and organisations in the northeast have also opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

As per the earlier bill, those who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014, are eligible to get the benefits after it becomes an act.

There is a possibility of changes in the cut-off date too, the official said.

The Modi government is set to push for the passage of the bill, a key BJP plank which is aimed at granting nationality to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries, in Parliament's Winter Session which began on Monday.

The government has listed the bill in its items of business for the session, official sources said.

The BJP-led NDA government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure as well but could not push it through due to vehement protests by opposition parties, which criticised the bill as discriminatory on religious grounds.

The bill had lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.

The BJP and its Hindutva affiliates have insisted that minorities, of whom Hindus are in overwhelming numbers, from these countries should be granted Indian citizenship.

The Winter Session will conclude December 13.

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