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Indian Muslims do not stand to suffer due to the CAA-NRC combo: Here are the laws and guidelines explained

The government policies, both of the UPA and Modi government, have been clear in regard to ‘economic immigrants’. They are not eligible for long-term visas and are deportable as and when detected, whether through the NRC system or otherwise.

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Kartikeya Tanna
Lawyer licensed in India, England & New York (US immigration law). Write columns on politico-legal developments.

There has been a lot of debates, claims, counter-claims and misinformation being circulated over the CAA and the NRC. Looking at the ground reports of the protests it is evident that a lot of misinformation ie being spread among the people to create unrest. This article is an attempt to simplify the CAA and the NRC for easy understanding.

The most recent criticism in regard to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) enacted by both Houses of Parliament is that it isn’t the CAA that is the problem. It is its combination with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which presents an evil where Muslims will suffer.

Numerous articles and social media posts by citizenry has put forth an illustration of how this combined effect creates an evil outcome. This article will dissect that illustration. Unlike most analyses which contain bland assertions without any links to relevant documents, this article contains links for the reader’s independent review.

Lastly, this analysis will also offer suggestions to the Modi government to make this process robust.

The CAA Pool

It is critical to mention that, before this dissection, the CAA must be fully understood in regard to what it does and doesn’t do given the extent of rumours and misrepresentations floating around.

[The law can be read here whereas the author has extensively elaborated upon the CAA and its contours in previous articles – click here and here.

At the cost of repetition, it is useful to outline two vital aspects of the CAA.

1.  Members of six religions, that is Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus fleeing three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can apply for Indian citizenship if they can demonstrate a physical presence in India of five years as opposed to the regular eleven years mentioned in the Citizenship Act, 1955. The offence of illegal migration into India is pardoned.

2.  They can only get this benefit if they entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

For the sake of brevity, we will collectively call these beneficiaries members of ‘CAA Pool’.

Illustration deployed by critics

The illustration deployed by critics, quite simply, is this:

If the NRC is implemented inefficiently and results in a situation where two Indian citizens – a Hindu and a Muslim – are determined as ‘non-Indians’ due to lack of documentation (we’ll call it the ‘NRC Net’), the Hindu could still save himself from harassment by entering the CAA Pool. The Muslim will suffer. He would likely be sent to a detention centre and would have to appear before tribunals to prove his Indian nationality.

Analysis

(i) Nationwide NRC not yet announced

At the outset, it is useful to mention the obvious. No nationwide NRC has been announced yet and, hence, any comparison with the requirements/criteria of Assam NRC is plainly misguided. Assam NRC is an exercise guided by an entirely different set of circumstances. In fact, Amit Shah himself suggested that the Assam NRC has demonstrated shortcomings which will guide the Modi government in formulating the nationwide NRC procedure.

(ii) Chronology

As clearly evidenced in the statements of Home Minister Amit Shah and others in the BJP, CAA has already been enacted as a law by both Houses of Parliament whereas NRC system hasn’t even been announced, let alone its criteria determined. CAA will, therefore, be rolled out first followed by a nationwide NRC.

Another vital aspect is that all beneficiaries under CAA – the entire CAA Pool – will be eligible to apply for Indian citizenship in less than 10 days, i.e., when they reach the five-year residency period on 31.12.2019. Indeed, it is possible that not everyone would apply right away. But, at the very least, it cannot be argued that the CAA Pool will continue to expand after 31.12.2019 with more beneficiaries becoming eligible in the next few years even after the NRC is rolled out.

Advice: Modi government should ideally announce a deadline well before the intended roll-out of the NRC and widely publicize it so that everyone in the CAA Pool applies for Indian citizenship before that deadline. That way, the operations of NRC will commence only after benefits under CAA have been applied for by whosoever is eligible.

(iii) Credibility of claim

If and when the NRC is rolled out, for an Indian Hindu in the NRC Net to subsequently claim he is a member of the CAA Pool will, rather obviously, lack credibility. This is because, in the NRC process, he would have claimed (whether in a form or verbally to the authority conducting the NRC) that he is an Indian citizen. His claim to be in the CAA Pool after an unsuccessful claim to the NRC authorities that he is an Indian citizen would be met with serious suspicion given it would be an obvious afterthought.

(iv) Penalty for misrepresentation

In the remote possibility that the Hindu in the NRC Net manages to hoodwink everyone to obtain Indian citizenship through the CAA route, Section 10 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 authorizes the government to revoke his citizenship on grounds of false representation when found.

(v) Current benefits to CAB Pool – a useful guide for Citizenship (Amendment) Rules 2019?

Since December 2014, the Modi government has issued long-term visas to Pakistani nationals belonging to minority communities, among others, who are “seeking a permanent settlement in India with a view to becoming citizens of India”. In fact, Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan who entered India on pilgrim visas and did not go back due to religious persecution were granted long-term visas as per a 2012 policy of the UPA government. The policy document, available on the MHA website, can be accessed here. Over the five- year duration of the Modi government, it went on increasing the long-term visa pool including Bangladesh and Afghanistan nationals.

In February 2018, it published a document (available on the MHA website) on the grant of long-term visas with five-year duration to all members who are today in the CAB Pool. The government also permitted them to open bank accounts, carry out self-employment, obtain a driving license, PAN card and Aadhar number.

Therefore, many in today’s CAB Pool are already holders of long-term visas with basic identity documents or are in the process of obtaining one.

Those CAB Pool members who entered India on/before 31.12.2014 without a valid passport/travel document (or who now hold an expired passport/travel document) were asked to apply for long-term visas. See this screenshot:

Direction to apply for long term visas

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Importantly, illegal immigrants belonging to what is today the CAB Pool needed to provide documents to prove their eligibility for a long-term visa. The following screenshots elaborate that.

Documents to prove eligibility