The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill has appreciated the government's decision to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, claiming such people were being subjected to "unfair treatment" in those countries.
In its 440-page report, the panel headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agrawal said, "Display of such supportive and humanitarian approach on the part of the government towards the minorities who fled the three countries, including Bangladesh, due to religious persecution is quite appreciable."
The JPC report was submitted to the Lok Sabha on Monday and adopted through a majority vote, amidst dissent notes by opposition members.
The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don't possess any proper document.
This was an election promise of the BJP in 2014.
A large number of people in Assam and other northeastern states have been protesting against the bill, saying it would nullify the 1985 Assam Accord under which any foreign national, irrespective of religion, who had entered the state after 1971 should be deported.
The Asom Gana Parishad, an ally in the BJP-led Assam government Monday announced that it would snap ties with the saffron party over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is expected to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The JPC report said, "The new cut of date implies that no more migrants would be legally allowed India after December 31, 2014 and it should motivate every stakeholder including the central government and the state governments to work in unison to ensure putting in place foolproof measures to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country, especially Assam, which has borne the maximum impact of influx from Bangladesh."
The committee observed that several Assamese organisations have protested against the proposed amendments on the ground that the burden of the illegal migrants would be passed on to the state besides conferring political and economic rights upon such migrants to the detriment of indigenous communities.
"In view of such protests, the committee is not convinced with the Ministry of Home Affairs' statement that there is no specific report on the unexpected demographic changes of certain North Eastern states, particularly Assam, due to the influx of migrants from Bangladesh," it said.
The JPC said demographic changes have been indicated in successive census but the illegal migrants claim that they are original residents and citizens of India as they have been able to obtain documents, including ration card, driving licence, passport etc.
"Therefore, in the committee's opinion, the cut off date of December 31, 2014 assumes greater significance as it has been intended to determine eligibility and prevent further influx into India, negating thereby the possible malafide design of the vested interests in the neighbouring countries," it observed.
In their dissent note, Congress Rajya Sabha members Bhubaneswar Kalita and Pradip Bhattacharya said on certain grounds, the bill may create ethnic divisions in Assam and the Northeast.
In his dissent note, CPI-M member Mohammad Salim said the Indian citizenship flows from the Constitution that grants it as a fundamental right and the right cannot be religion specific or country of origin specific.
TMC members Saugata Roy and Derek O'Brien, in their dissent note, said the bill brings out the ethnic division in Assam and it should not be passed by sheer majority since this is a political effort not necessitated political realities in Assam and West Bengal.
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