The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has challenged the Centre’s May 28 order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asking minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have taken refuge in India, to apply for citizenship. The order had empowered 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians.
The Home Ministry had issued the notification for immediate implementation of the order under the Citizenship Act 1955. Those eligible to apply for Indian citizenship are currently living in 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.
Notably, the Centre had brought Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019 to expedite citizenship being given to non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the CAA case is still pending in the Supreme Court and the rules are yet to be finalised, the application was invited under the Citizenship Act of 1955. In 2016, sixteen district collectors were given the power to accept citizenship applications under Sections 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act of 1955, reported Bar and Bench. With the latest order, now 29 districts have the power to grant citizenship.
“In exercise of powers conferred under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), 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 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 below,” the May 28 MHA notification said.
The IUML was the first to challenge the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) in the Supreme Court. The CAA had attracted widespread protest in many states. The IUML has filed the application in the pending CAA case. It contended that the provisions of the Citizenship Act cited do not permit the classification of applicants based on religion. They also submitted that the MHA order is a violation of Article 14 as it ‘treats people within a particular class i.e. persons entitled to apply for citizenship by registration and naturalisation unequally by virtue of their religion’.