In its bid to swiftly grant citizenship to Hindu minorities, who fled from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to religious persecution, the Union Home Ministry has given powers to district magistrates and state home secretaries of seven states for “grant of certificate of naturalisation under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act”.
Since citizenship is in the Union list, only the central government enjoys the power to grant citizenship unless delegated, said officials. The states to which these powers have been extended are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. Except Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, all other states have BJP governments, making it easier to implement the Centre’s roadmap.
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According to the orders issued last week, “The central government hereby directs that 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 minority community in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians…shall also be exercisable by the collector and the secretary of the department of home of the state or the UT.”
The powers will be valid for two years during which the government plans to finish the process of granting citizenship to nearly three lakh such people, residing in these states. As per data available with the Pakistan Hindu Council, Pakistan has the highest number of Hindus, nearly 69 lakh at the end of 2015.
A similar notification empowering collectors in Gujarat and Rajasthan was issued in 2003-04 during the tenure of then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee with a validity of one year. However, it had to be withdrawn prematurely as intelligence agencies pointed alleged misuse by some officials of the state government, said an official.
The Home Ministry had earlier relaxed norms for those staying on Long Term Visa (LTV), allowing them to buy property, open bank accounts and obtain PAN as well as Aadhaar cards. However, the Bill to amend the Citizenship Act for minority Hindus introduced this year is pending before Parliament.
After the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, several steps have been taken to simplify LTV and citizenship for Hindu minorities from neighboring countries. There is also a provision to allow free movement of LTV holders within the states and UTs wherever they are staying instead of restricting their movement to the place of stay, said officials. Last year, the Home Ministry issued two notifications exempting Bangladesh and Pakistan nationals from minority communities, who entered India before December 31, 2014, from the provisions of Passport Act and the Foreigners Act.