By LE Staff
New Delhi, June 15, 2021: The Ministry of Home Affairs has told the Supreme Court that its May 28 order delegating power to District Collectors in 13 districts across five States to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh has “no relation whatsoever” with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.
The 2019 Act, better known by its abbreviation ‘CAA’, is under challenge before the Supreme Court. The law is accused of “fast-tracking” citizenship for non-Muslim persecuted minorities — Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — from India’s three neighbours. The CAA is blamed of illegally granting citizenship on the basis of religion.
Petitions in the Supreme Court have drawn parallels between the CAA and the May 28 notification, which facilitates non-Muslims from the three countries residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for citizenship.
Indian Union Muslim League party, represented by advocate Haris Beeran, said the May 28 order was a deliberate ploy to implement CAA’s “malafide designs”.
In its response, the MHA countered that the May order “merely delegates the power of (granting citizenship by registration and naturalisation) to the local authorities in particular cases”, The Hindu reported.
“The Central Government used its authority under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act… It is merely a process of decentralisation of decision-making aimed at speedy disposal of the citizenship applications of such foreigners… It has no relation whatsoever to the CAA,” the MHA affidavit said.
But Beeran expressed his doubts, saying “if it has no relation to CAA, where does the May 28 notification draw authority from to specify the same communities for the same three countries for facilitating the citizenship process”.
The government reasoned that the notification did not “provide for any relaxations to the foreigners and applies only to foreigners who have entered the country legally”. The applicants should possess valid documents like passports and Indian visa.
“Any foreigner of any faith can apply for citizenship of India at any time,” the MHA affidavit said, reported The Hindu.
The government however said the May 28 notification was only one among numerous such orders passed in the past to meet “administrative exigencies”. The Centre said it had similarly delegated powers to District Collectors of 16 districts and Home Secretaries of seven States in 2016. Following this, the Centre had received “several representations” to extend the delegatory powers to more districts and States. The May 28 order was the result.
The May 2021 order extends the power to District Collectors of Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat, Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan, Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh, Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab and to Home Secretaries of two more States, i.e., Haryana and Punjab.
“Now District Collectors of 29 districts and Home Secretaries of nine States will exercise powers of Central Government to grant citizenship to the specified category of foreigners. The Central Government has also retained its right to simultaneously use these powers any time,” the affidavit noted, as reported by The Hindu.