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The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) created quite a stir in the country and now when the bill has been ratified as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), it has not failed to create nationwide hullabaloo. Some States went to the extent of outrightly refusing the implementation of the act.
The chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan who is a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) party, vehemently opposed the act brought in by the BJP government. Citing the principles of secularism embedded in the Indian constitution, he refused to implement the Act in the state of Kerala.
Apart from Kerala, Punjab also refused the ‘unconstitutional’ Bill”s implementation. Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab and a member of the Indian National Congress (INC) party, also declared that Punjab was reluctant in implementing the CAA.
Lashing out at the BJP-led central government over the amended Citizenship Act, Banerjee, who is also TMC chief, said the saffron party cannot bulldoze the states to implement the law.
Subsequently the States of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh also refused to implement the law claiming that it divides the nation on religious basis.
“We will never allow the NRC exercise and Citizenship Act in Bengal. We will not implement the amended Act, even though it has been passed in Parliament. The BJP can’t just bulldoze the states to implement it,” said Mamta Banerjee, the chief of Trinamool Congress (TMC) and chief minister of the State of West Bengal. Her government led a rally on 16th December in protest against the implementation of the CAA.
Before the CAA 2019 there existed the the Citizenship Act, 1955. This Act, and its subsequent amendments until 2019, prohibited illegal migrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. The Act defined “illegal immigrants” as citizens of other countries who entered India without valid travel documents, or who remained in the country beyond the period permitted by their travel documents.
The 1955 law provided provisions to deport or jail the illegal immigrant. The 2019 amendment directed that citizenship should be given to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian immigrants from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are a minority in those countries and faced religious persecution there.
The amendment does not mention the Muslim immigrants of these countries, nor does it mention immigrants facing religious persecution in other neighbouring countries.
The BJP govt. had introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha in 2016 and it was passed therein, but it stalled in the Rajya Sabha. One of the major reasons was the problems that could arise in the states like Assam. The same government in its 2019 general election Manifesto promised to give citizenship to religious minorities of its neighbouring countries.
Legal principles involved:
The parliament of India is the supreme legislative body consisting of the President, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The two houses work for formulating and discussing of bills proposed. Once a bill is passed in both the houses, it is sent to the President for his assent.
Once the President signs the bill, it is ratified as an Act. In the present context, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was ratified as the Citizenship Amendment Act when the President of India, Sri Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent and signed it on 13 December, 2019.
Federalism in the Constitution
Federalism is the compound form of government where the power is not located or vested not in a single government but is divided. It consists of a dual machinery, that is, a central government that takes care of the affairs and matters of national interest and the most important problems of the country at hand ; while the state government or the local government authorities take care of matters that are important and pertain to certain specific problems existing at the state level or local level.
Indian Constitution says that India is a Federal country. Hence, at the centre we have the Union Government and State Government at the State level. The Indian constitution has borrowed this principle from the Canadian Model of Federalism.
Part XI of the Indian constitution talks about the distribution of executive, administrative and legislative powers among the Central government and the states of the country. The legislative powers are divided into Union list, State list and Concurrent list.
The Union list, under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, consists of 100 items on which the only parliament can legislate. The list contains particulars like – railway, defence, armed forces, foreign trade etc.
The state list consists of 61 topics such as electricity, healthcare, transport etc. These items are specific to the concerned states.
Can states reject the implementation of central laws?
The Acts passed by the Centre which constitute the central laws result in being implemented in the whole of country unless the Act says otherwise or has certain exceptions. As mentioned earlier, under the seventh schedule of the Indian constitution, only the parliament has rights over the union list.
Hence, any Act pertaining to those items cannot be rejected by the state governments. The most they can do is delay its implementation or implement it poorly. Article 256 of the constitution also talks about the obligation of the states to implement the parliamentary acts.
Apart from, CAA which saw backlash by various states, there have been other enactments by the Parliament that have been refused by the states. For example – the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. The West Bengal Government refused to implement this law, while the State of Gujrat drastically reduced the fine.
The Parliamentary Acts or laws are meant for the well-being of the country but often so happens that it creates mass unrest. The CAA is the best current example. The implementation process is even more difficult than the formulation because of the divided opinions, cultures, ideologies that too in a country like India.
It is the responsibility of the Parliament to enact laws after much deliberation, proper analysis etc and on the other hand the citizens’ work is to understand the current political scenario and most importantly the act or law that has been enacted. Misunderstandings and misinformation can lead to more issues than the issue that the Act intended to tackle in the first place.
Author: Aditi Mishra from ILS Law College, Pune
Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.