The Citizenship Amendment Act of 1986 portrayed that it was not necessary to be born in India to get Indian Citizenship. It was enough if one of the parents were Indian citizens at the time of their birth to become a citizen of India.
This amendment changed the criteria for qualifying as an Indian Citizen from the Citizenship Act of 1956. By this amendment, it was no longer required to be born in India to become an Indian Citizen. It further changed the qualifying period of stay for acquiring citizenship through marriage, naturalization and registration. It also amended the definition of ‘Indian Origin’ in the Act by excluding those people whose grandparents were born in India but not their parents.
The Amendment received widespread criticism from many leaders of that time calling it a legal absurdity and administratively impracticable among others. However, it was defended by Mr P. Chidambaram who was the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs who said that it was necessary to bring such stringent measures to prevent a large influx of immigration from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan. He stressed that it did not violate any Human Rights but was only supported by the Asom Gana Parishad where its leader said that the state of Assam had suffered from immigration for six years before the Central Government took notice.
But the Amendment was violating the Assam Accord which signified that any foreign immigrant irrespective of religion who had entered the state of Assam before March 25, 1971, was to be given Citizenship while the rest had to be expelled.
THE ASSAM ACCORD
The state of Assam had a problem with illegal immigrants entering its border and acquiring citizenship affecting the daily lives of the citizens. The influx of foreign immigrants harmed the political, social, economical and cultural backgrounds of the state.
The movement started with a protest by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979 demanding the deportation of unidentified illegal immigrants from the state. The movement primarily began with protests and demonstrations and slowly began to gather momentum. The AASU then forwarded a memorandum to the Central Government in 1980. The talks began between the AASU and Central Government in 1980 but no agreement was reached for five years. The talks were held with the Prime Minister and Home Minister between 1980 and 1983.
In 1984, there were several informal talks between the AASU and the Central Government but the negotiations seemed to be never-ending. Formal talks once again resumed in March 1985 under the leadership of the new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The Assam Accord was signed on Independence day in 1985. It was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed and agreed by the Leaders of the Movement in Assam and the representatives of the Government. The main parties in the movement were the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). The Assam Accord was signed by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, and marked the end of the Assam Movement.
The subject matter of the Assam Accord was the Immigration Issue. The various clauses of the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) dealt with different issues. Clause five dealt with Foreigners issue, Safeguards and Economic development under clause six and clause seven. Other issues were dealt with in Clauses eight to twelve and clauses thirteen and fourteen dealt with Restoration of Normalcy.
A separate department called the ‘Implementation of Assam Accord Department’ was established by the Home Ministry in 1986 to monitor and implement the Assam Accord with the help of the State Government.
The base date under clause 5 of the Assam Accord set 1.1.1966 as the base date. Any person who came to after the base date and before 24.3.1971 will be detected under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and The Foreigners (Tribunal) Orders, 1964 and their names will be deleted from electoral rolls. After ten years from the date of detection, such deleted persons from electoral rolls shall be restored and the illegal immigrants who re-entered the state will be expelled.
Foreigners who came to Assam after 25.3.1971 will be detected, deleted, and practical steps will be taken by the Government to expel them.
The Assam Accord concluded the six years of protests and demonstrations where around eight hundred and fifty-five lives were sacrificed in the hope of illegal immigration free Assam. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) became prominent political parties in the state of Assam.
It is one of the most famous postcolonial era movements in India. It was also started by the students and youth of Assam which became the talking point of the movement. The leaders of the movement went on to become Chief Ministers and Ministers of the State in Assam.
Assam is the only state in the country to have a cut-off date for citizenship of its people. It was added through the Amendment in December 1985 and enforced in 1986 in the Citizenship Amendment Act of 1955. Section 6A was added to the Act through this Amendment.
Section 6A says that any person who immigrated into Assam from East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) before 1.1.1966 will be considered as Indian Citizens. Those who immigrated between 2.1.1966 and 24.3.1971 would have to register themselves as per the Assam Accord. The problem was, while Section 6A differentiates between the immigrated persons from 1.1.1966 and 24.3.1971, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) does not differentiate between the two which was to be done under Rule 4A of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
The primary issue was there were two cut-off dates, one under Section 6A for Assam and another under Section 3 of the Citizenship Act. It is pertinent to note that both the sections apply to the state of Assam as section 3 does not expressly exclude Assam from the rest of India and hence, both the sections were clashing.
In this regard, a case was filed in the Supreme Court in 2012 and a Division bench of the Supreme Court in Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha vs Union of India posed thirteen questions concerning Section 6A of the Citizenship Act which was transferred to a bigger bench of five judges in 2017. This case was converted into a writ petition as the judges felt that the issues being dealt with are of considerable public importance and have the potential of affecting the fundamental rights of a large population.
A bench of five judges was constituted by Chief Justice JS Khehar in 2017 during the time of Court Holiday. It only had two hearings and it held that the arguments would take time and a new bench has to be constituted later.
By February 2018, another bench of five judges was constituted under Chief Justice Deepak Misra to deal with the thirteen questions. However, the Chief Justice’s tenure came to an end and the case was led by Ranjan Gogoi.
The new Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi did not set up a different Bench. Many cases were combined into one Writ Petition under the case – Assam Public Works vs Union of India and Others and delivered an order. It held that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be updated with the base date as Mach 24, 1971. The Chief Justice led Bench, however, did not answer the thirteen questions posed by the two bench judges.
The Citizenship Amendment Act of 1985 signified that it was not necessary to be born in India to become a citizen of India. it was enough if one of the parents were a citizen of India at the time of their birth. It changed the criteria to become an Indian Citizen encouraging immigration.
The state of Assam suffered a huge influx of immigration already and this Amendment further aggravated the problem. In 1979, protests started to erupt in the state to curb illegal immigration from neighbouring states into Assam. It was called the Assam Movement and lasted from 1979 till 1985 for 6 six years.
A Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed on Independence day in 1985 by the representatives of the Government and the leaders of the Assam Movement. It was called the ‘Assam Accord’. The Assam Movement is one of the most famous movements after Independence led by the Student of the state. A separate Department in this regard was established by the Central Government called the ‘Implementation of Assam Accord’ department to monitor and implement the Accord.
The Assam Accord set 01.01.1996 as the base date and any person immigrated into Assam after that date and before 24.03.1971 were detected and were provided certain rules to become citizens of India and illegal immigrants were expelled from the country. However, the cut-off date under the Accord brought in through section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act and Section 3 of the same Act are clashing giving varying cut-off dates. It further complicated the cut-off date for the National Register of Citizens.
In conclusion, the state of Assam has faced the problem of infiltration by illegal immigrants since Independence. The Assam Accord was a solution to try and restrict illegal immigration and safeguard the culture and heritage of the state. However, the state of Assam is still facing the problem of illegal immigration. The varying the cut-off dates have further complicated this problem. A permanent solution needs to be found with the cooperation of the Central Government and State Government to solve the problem the illegal immigration in the state of Assam.