ARTICLE
12 April 2024

"New Liberalized Regime Announced For Specific Cases In Indian Citizenship"

KC
Khaitan & Co LLP

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The acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship is governed by the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (Act) and the Citizenship Rules, 2009 (Rules).
India Government, Public Sector
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A. BACKGROUND

The acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship is governed by the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (Act) and the Citizenship Rules, 2009 (Rules). Citizenship can be acquired by birth, descent, registration, naturalisation, etc., subject to the fulfilment of conditions as specified under the Act and the Rules. In 2019, the Act was amended to introduce a Section 6B, providing relaxations for foreigners seeking citizenship in India (2019 Amendment). This includes migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist, and Christian communities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. The 2019 Amendment also reduces the residency requirement from 11 years to 5 years for applicants seeking citizenship by naturalization from these communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Subsequently in 2024, the Rules also underwent an amendment and introduced provisions of the enabling infrastructure for the enforcement of Section 6B of the Act, i.e., the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2024 (2024 Amendment).

The citizenship application process remains the same, but eligible applicants under Section 6B of the Act must adhere to the infrastructure provisions outlined in the 2024 Amendment. With the new online portal, securing citizenship under Section 6B of the Act is now entirely digital, from the submission of the application to government decision.

The key features under the new citizenship process are set out below:

B. APPLICABILITY

An application under Section 6B of the Act is required to be made by only those individuals that fulfil the eligibility requirements provided as follows:

  1. Persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan;
  2. who entered India on or before 31 December 2014; and
  3. who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under Section 3(2)(c) of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made there under.

C. DOCUMENTARY REQUIREMENTS

Section 6B of the Act has introduced new forms which are provided in Rule 10A of the Rules. Additionally, in order to demonstrate eligibility under Section 6B of the Act, documentation as provided in the Rules shall also be required to be produced, are as follows:

  1. Specified list of documents to prove that the applicant is a national of Afghanistan or Bangladesh or Pakistan, given in Schedule IA of the Rules;
  2. Specified list of documents to prove that the applicant has entered into India on or before 31 December 2014, given in Schedule IB of the Rules;
  3. Affidavit to be sworn before and attested by a Judicial Magistrate or an Executive Magistrate or an Oath Commissioner or a Notary Public, to be submitted along with the application given in Schedule IC of the Rules (which includes declarations for fulfilment of eligibility criteria) and an eligibility certificate from the locally reputed community institution (affirming the antecedents of the applicant specifically in relation to the eligibility criteria).

D. GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONARIES

Citizenship applications undergo a thorough review at three levels: district collector, state government and the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (MHA), which consults security agencies before issuing approval or rejection.

For applicants under Section 6B of the Act, the process is entirely online. Applications are submitted electronically to the Empowered Committee (EC) through the District level Committee (DLC), verified by a Designated Officer (DO) and then scrutinized by the EC. Upon satisfaction, the EC may either approve or reject the application for Indian citizenship.

As per the MHA order dated 11 March 2024, the EC will be in the States or Union Territories headed by the Director (Census Operations) of the State or Union Territory concerned and the DLC will be headed by the jurisdictional Senior Superintendent or Superintendent of Post who is the DO.

E. APPLICATION FEES

The applicable fee for registration or naturalisation as a citizen of India under Section 6B of the Act along with the application, is INR 50, as provided in Schedule IV of the Rules.

F. OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

To streamline the citizenship process under Section 6B of the Act, the MHA has introduced an online portal. This portal allows applicants to submit citizenship applications electronically and receive their citizenship certificates digitally upon approval. Below is a summary of the procedural process outlined in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for processing of citizenship applications under Section 6B, CAA:

  1. Online Application: Applicant is required to submit an application online at https://indiancitizenshiponline.nic.in or the mobile application 'CAA-2019' to the EC through the DLC headed by DO, along with the requisite documents and payment of requisite fees online. On submission of application, an acknowledgment in Form IX will be auto-generated electronically, which will be available to the applicant. As soon as the application is submitted, it will be accessible to both the EC and the DLC.
  2. Scrutiny and Verification of Documents: Post submission of the form online, the form will be scrutinised by the DLC, and thereafter, the DLC will intimate the applicant through e-mail / SMS about the date and time on which the applicant would be expected to visit the DLC, in person, along with originals of all the documents attached with the application for verification.
  3. Oath of Allegiance for Registration or Naturalisation: If the documents are verified, the DO will administer the "Oath of Allegiance" to the applicant for citizenship by registration or naturalisation. Any deficiencies will prompt the DLC to request additional documents, with the applicant being given a chance to comply. Failure to appear may lead to the DLC forwarding the application for refusal of citizenship. The "Oath of Allegiance" is administered only after submission of documents, and upon confirmation, the DLC uploads the oath to the online system and forwards the application to the EC.
  4. Verification / Security of Background / Document Check: The application will become accessible to the security agency immediately after the document check and "Oath of Allegiance" steps are completed. The report of the security agency will be passed online to the EC directly.
  5. Decision of the EC: The EC will scrutinise the application, and on being satisfied after making such inquiry as it considers necessary and based on the report of the security agency, the EC may approve / reject the application for the citizenship of India.
  6. Grant of Certificate of Citizenship by Registration or Naturalisation: An applicant who has applied for grant of citizenship will be issued a digital certificate of registration or naturalisation by the EC. The certificate will have bar code or QR code capturing the details. An ink-signed copy of the certificate of registration or naturalisation will be issued to the applicant in case he / she has opted for the same at the application stage. This will have to be collected by the applicant from the office of the EC.
  7. Citizenship Register: The EC will maintain an electronic register in accordance with the Rules (as per online format) containing the details of persons so registered or naturalised as a citizen of India.

G. KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN 2024 AMENDMENT AND GENERAL CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS

Besides meeting the eligibility criteria outlined in paragraph B of this article, the 2024 Amendment introduces substantial procedural changes for availing relaxations under Section 6B of the Act. These changes contrast significantly with the process for general citizenship applications. Below is a summary of the key differences between applications under the 2024 Amendment and general citizenship applications:

  1. While the authorities involved in scrutinisation and review of general citizenship applications are at three levels, i.e., at the district collector level, State level / Union Territory level and further followed by the MHA, under the 2024 Amendment the authorities are at two levels only (wherein specific committees are formed), being at district level and State / Union Territory level, i.e., the DLC and the EC respectively.
  2. While general citizenship applications involve both online and offline scrutiny by government functionaries at intermediate levels, the 2024 Amendment aims to streamline the process entirely online for citizenship under Section 6B of the Act. This involves the launch of a dedicated online portal for submitting applications, generating acknowledgments, security agency reports, and digital certificates of registration / naturalisation.
  3. While the Oath of Allegiance for naturalisation under general citizenship applications are granted at two stages, i.e., by the district collector and by the officials of the MHA at the time of grant of citizenship, under the 2024 Amendment, the Oath of Allegiance for naturalization shall only be administered once, i.e., by the DO of the DLC.

CONCLUSION

While the relaxations introduced can be considered as a welcome measure given the pendency of the citizenship applications at the MHA level, the comprehensive documentary requirements may pose a challenge to the applicants to procure the same.

Given that the 2024 Amendment has been recently enforced, the infrastructure for the same is at its nascent stage and therefore the effectiveness in relation to the implementation of the 2019 Amendment and the 2024 Amendment will be seen in the times to come.

The content of this document do not necessarily reflect the views/position of Khaitan & Co but remain solely those of the author(s). For any further queries or follow up please contact Khaitan & Co at legalalerts@khaitanco.com

ARTICLE
12 April 2024

"New Liberalized Regime Announced For Specific Cases In Indian Citizenship"

India Government, Public Sector

Contributor

  • A leading full-service law firm with over 560 professionals with Pan-India coverage through offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata
  • Lawyers and trusted advisors to leading business houses, multinational corporations, global investors, financial institutions, governments and international law firms
  • Responsive and relationship driven approach to client service on critical issues and along the business life cycle
  • Specialists with deep sector, domain and jurisdictional knowledge to provide effective business solutions
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