With the Union home ministry yet to notify rules under the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Centre on Friday invited non-Muslims (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists) from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for Indian citizenship.
The Union home ministry issued a notification to this effect for immediate implementation of the order under the Citizenship Act 1955 and Rules framed under the law in 2009. The rules under the CAA are yet to be framed by the government.
This is in addition to the 16 districts in seven states that were given powers to verify and approve citizenship under pre-CAA provision i.e., Citizenship Act, 1955. The total number of districts where this is being implemented is 29 districts in nine states.
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Non-Muslims who are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship are those currently living in the districts of Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara of Gujarat, Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh, Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan, Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab.
When the CAA was enacted in 2019, there were widespread protests in different parts of the country and even riots took place in Delhi in early 2020 in the wake of these protests.
According to the CAA, Indian citizenship will be given to non-Muslim persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — who had come to India till December 31, 2014.
Interestingly, the home ministry’s order makes no mention of West Bengal and Assam where the matter of CAA was raised during the recent state assembly elections, with both states sharing a vast border with Bangladesh.
During the recently-concluded assembly polls, several BJP leaders said that CAA rules were on the anvil. But with several states going into lockdown and curfews due to rising Covid cases back in April, there seems to be an inordinate delay in the announcement of CAA rules.
Most of those applying are on Long Term Visas (LTVs).
The MHA order has been issued under the Citizenship Act 1955 and not under the CAA, 2019. A similar notification was issued in 2018 as well for other districts in several states.
The home ministry said the verification of the application is done simultaneously by the collector or secretary (Home) of Haryana and Punjab as the case may be, at the district-level and the state-level, and the application and the reports thereon shall be made accessible simultaneously to the Centre on the online portal.
In 2018, the government granted similar powers to collectors and home secretaries of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. In 2016, a similar notification also included Maharashtra.
The ministry sources say the fresh order is no way connected to the Citizenship Amendment Act enacted in 2019.
“In exercise of powers conferred under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the central government hereby directs the 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 the minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, residing in the districts mentioned and the states mentioned,” the notification reads.
The collector or the secretary, as the case may be, makes such inquiry as he considers necessary for ascertaining the suitability of the applicant and for that purpose forwards the application online to such agencies for verification and comments as may be required for completing such an inquiry and the instructions issued by the Centre from time-to-time in this regard shall be strictly complied with by state or union territory and district concerned, it said.