One of the most contentious issues that might be taken up for discussion in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament is the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This bill aims at amending The Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian Citizenship of certain community of illegal migrants to India. The Bill was introduced in the year 2016 and was passed by then Lok Sabha. But it was not introduced in the Rajya Sabha and the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha in the month of July 2019. As the Government is mulling to reintroduce the bill, it is pertinent to examine the legality of it from a dispassionate stand point. The discussion in the following paragraph runs on the presumption that there will not be any material altercation in the text of the bill.
The Proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill – Does it violate Article-14 ?
The text of the bill, 2019 which was passed by Lok Sabha on 8-1-2019 (now stands lapsed) intends to amend, inter alia, Section 2 of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 by introducing a proviso to Section 2(1)(b) which read as follows;
“Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c)
Provided further that on and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against any person referred to in 5 the first proviso shall be abated and such person shall be eligible to apply for naturalisation under section 6.”.
The text of this provision is the cause of a major legal debate. Critics say the bill violated the basic structure of the constitution as it is against the principle of Article 14.
The Article 14 speaks that, the state shall not deny any person equality before law or equal protection of the law provided nothing therein contained shall prevent the State from making a law based on or involving a reasonable classification. The concept of reasonable classification means a law must operate alike on all persons similarly placed in similar circumstances. It involves putting persons or things together in a class; and the equality clause requires that the class thus formed must not leave out any person of thing which falls within the class. The Supreme Court in Dalmiapoints out that reasonable classification must satisfy two conditions; (1) it must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others that are left out of the group and (2) the differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.In Kangshari Haldar v. State of West Bengal,Gajendragadkar,J. has held that if either of the two criteria are not satisfied then the act is liable to be struck down as unconstitutional.
Applying the above principle, it needs to be examined if the proposed bill fulfils both the criteria to stand the test of article 14. At the cost of repetition, it is pertinent to mention that the classification to be valid both the criteria together need to be satisfied; if one criterion fails the classification is liable to be struck down as ultra vires.
Three hypotheses can be formed to examine the issue. The three hypotheses are- Can the bill stand the scrutiny of law if it considers
- Geography as a basis for reasonable classification
- Religious Persecution as a basis for reasonable classification
- Immigration to India as a basis for reasonable classification
- Geography as a basis for reasonableclassification
It is a settled principle of law that geography can be a basis for classification provided there exists a rational nexus with the objects sought to be achieved by the act.Reliance may be placed on Sarbananda Sonowal v Union of India, where the Court has to deal with Illegal Migrants Determination (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT Act) and its geographical exclusiveness regarding its applicability to state of Assam. The Court has held that
The object of the bill is to facilitate granting of Citizenship to people of only six religious communities who have migrated to India. The legislature is well within its right to define the class based on geography. However, the object will not be satisfied if only three nations are chosen as a class. To cite an example a sizeable population of Chin migrants from Myanmar are residing in India who practise Christianity.Hence, excluding Myanmar from the classification will not treat Christians migrated from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh equally with the Christian migrants from Myanmar. The objective envisaged by the legislature will not be fulfilled through the Act. Also, reliance may be posited on Bombay v. Bombay Education Society, wherein it was held that if the prohibition provided in Article 14 is violated, the law would be void, howsoever laudable the motive of its makers.Exclusion of other neighbouring nations from the classification renders the Act hit by the prohibition of Article 14 and hence, it is not constitutionally tenable.
- ReligiousPersecution as a basis for reasonable classification
The contention that religious persecution as a basis for classification is also not tenable. As the facts reveal, religious persecution is not limited to only three nations.It is very much present in Myanmar as well as in China. Secondly, religious persecution is not limited to the six religions alone. In the neighbourhood of India, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence in Myanmar; Uighur Muslims are facing dire religious persecution in the Xinjiang province of China.Besides, there is hatred between Hui Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists in Lhasa province, which has resulted in incidents of religious persecution of Hui Muslims in certain pockets of Lhasa.Hence, there is no reasonable basis to classify only six religions as a separate group on the presumption that only those religions face persecution. The criterion of intelligible differentia is not fulfilled.
- Immigration to India as a basis for reasonable classification
India has a sizeable chunk of immigrants from Myanmar including the Chin tribes and the Rohingya Muslims. Sri Lankan Tamils also constitute a sizeable group so also the Tibetan settlers. Hence, only three countries cannot be singled out as the dominant contributor of immigrants to India. Besides, reference may be made to Royappa v State of Tamil Naduand Maneka Gandhi v Union of Indiawhere the Courts have held that Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in state action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The proposed bill is fraught with arbitrariness as it has intended to bring in artificial difference between migrants of different religion. Hence, the Act is bound to fail the test of Article 14 of the constitution.
As all the three hypotheses fail to prove the intelligible differentia and reasonable nexus principle, the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2019 (as its text was) may not stand the scrutiny of constitutional provisions under Article 14.
H.M. Seervai, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, A CRITICAL COMMENTARY, 4THED, LEXIS NEXIS page 442
Dalmia, Supra Note 2
Anwar Ali Sarkar v. The State of West Bengal (1952) S.C.R. at pp 340-41; Om Prakash v. J&K (1981) A.SC. 1001; D.D. Joshi v. Union (1983) A.SC. 420.
AIR 1960 SC 457
 Dalmia case; S.I.S. Mills Assn. v. Union (1972) A.A.P. 75, 81-82
 (2005) (5) SCC 665
AIR 1964 SC 370
(2002) (6) SCC 562
(2015) (9) SCC 657
IRIN, Chin migrants face bleak prospects in India, http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2014/01/06/chin-migrants-face-bleak-prospects-indiaaccessed on 09-10-2018
(1955) 1 S.C.R.
Ethnic Clashes Over Gansu Mosque”. Radio Free Asia.;^“Police shut Muslim quarter in Lhasa”. CNN. LHASA, Tibet. 28 March 2008. Archived from the originalon 4 April 2008.; A.A. (11 November 2012).“The living picture of frustration”. The Economist. Retrieved 2014-01-15
AIR 1974 SC 555
AIR 1978 SC 597