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Changes to Passport, Foreigners Acts still pending in top court

The government on September 8, 2015, changed passport and foreigners acts to allow non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan to stay in India even if they had or hadn’t entered the country with valid papers.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 06, 2019, 07.04 AM IST
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NEW DELHI: The government on September 8, 2015, changed passport and foreigners acts to allow non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan to stay in India even if they had or hadn’t entered the country with valid papers prior to December 31, 2014.

The changes were challenged in the Supreme Court but are yet to be heard. The matter assumes significance in the light of Union Cabinet’s nod to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which proposes to give citizenship right to persecuted non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules allowed non-Muslims to stay in India if they were seeking shelter due to religious persecution or feared such an action and had entered India before December 31, 2014, with valid documents, or papers which were valid but had lapsed.

According to the new rules, minorities were specifically defined to include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015, said the Foreigners Act, 1946, would not apply to these persecuted categories to prevent their harassment and deportation. The rules were challenged in the Rohingya case in SC as ‘discriminatory’ against the Rohingya Muslims fleeing religious persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.

At least three petitions urged the court to strike down the rules. An SC bench led by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi on February 27 and later in March 5, 2019, issued notices to the Assam government and the Centre on two petitions — one by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and the other by Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha.

A third petition was filed by way of a PIL by the Tripura People’s Front headed by Patal Kanya Jamatia. This petition objected to regularising the stay of such refugees as hurtful to the interest of the local populace. All these petitions are pending.

Also, the SC is yet to hear a plea against Section 6A of the Citizenship Act which allows all those who entered Assam between January 1, 1966, and March 25, 1971, to stay on if they can establish that they came in that period.

Those after March 25, 1971, were to be deported after identification — that’s what NRC intended to do — if they failed to trace their ancestry either to the 1951 NRC or the electoral rolls up to 1971. This cutoff for Assam is in sharp contrast to the cutoff of July 19, 1948, for the rest of the country
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