With Telangana joining the growing number of states which have passed anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) resolutions, questions are being raised over the moral defensibility of the new citizenship law.
Though Article 256 of the Constitution mandates the states to comply with the laws made by Parliament, constitutional experts point out that states are not subservient to the Centre in a federal set-up, and have every right to voice their dissent and grievances.
“No doubt, the citizenship is a central subject. While the powers to grant citizenship rest with the Union government, the new law cannot be implemented without cooperation from the states,” says Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and Dean of Law, Bennett University.
The states need to assist the new citizens and enrol them into the local social security schemes and other welfare programmes.
With state after state passing resolutions against the CAA, National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), the new citizenship law becomes morally indefensible, argued Prof K Nageshwar, a senior analyst and former member of Telangana Legislative Council.
Seven States— Kerala, Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana—have passed resolutions in Assembly opposing the CAA while the NDA-ruled Bihar also adopted an unanimous resolution making it clear that NRC exercise would not be carried out in the state while seeking NPR work as per the 2010 format.
Telangana became the seventh state in the country to pass a resolution in the Assembly opposing the CAA, terming it as an attempt to alter non-religious nature of Indian citizenship.
The resolution, moved by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Monday (March 16), was adopted by the House unanimously. It urged the Centre to amend the CAA by removing all references to any religion or to any foreign country.
The resolution noted that there had been concerted attempts to tinker with the inclusive and non-religious nature of Indian citizenship through CAA, NPR and NRC.
“Besides violating principles of equality, non-discrimination and secularism, this concerted attempt will also endanger the lives of vulnerable groups who do not possess adequate documentary proof of citizenship. Moreover, there are serious questions as to the legality and constitutionality of CAA, NPR and NRC,” the resolution read.
“The parliamentary enactment of CAA has created grave apprehensions among various sections of society that it is a prelude to the NPR which will lead to a nationwide NRC,” it said.
It pointed out that for the first time in India, the CAA introduced religious test to acquire Indian citizenship while also providing for an accelerated path to citizenship for non-Muslim citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“We have a responsibility to the nation since this is a question of our country’s future. We have a very strong reason to oppose the CAA,” the chief minister said while introducing the resolution.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) had opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill and voted against it in both houses of Parliament.
The constitutional experts point out that though the Centre may have overriding powers on matters pertaining to citizenship, the CAA has lost its moral strength in view of the growing public concerns over its controversial provisions.
The CAA offers an accelerated path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Parsi refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to the deliberate exclusion of Muslims. “This is a clear attempt to alter the non-religious nature of Indian citizenship and undermine the fundamental principles of secularism and equality,” Acharyulu said.
“Instead of dismissing the resolutions of the state assemblies as an assault on powers of the Centre, the NDA government must speak to the states to dispel their doubts about several provisions. Cooperative federalism is the need of the hour to strengthen the constitutional spirit,” he said.
The CAA has raised concerns that introduction of a religious test for citizenship insults the memory of India’s founders who consciously chose not to incorporate a racial or religious principle in the provisions applicable to citizenship.
There are genuine fears that CAA, in combination with the NRC, will result in religious discrimination and undermining the spirit of the Constitution. Over 140 petitioners have already been filed in courts under Article 32 which provides right to constitutional remedy for the alleged violation of fundamental rights.
Granting citizenship on the basis of religion violates not only the principle of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution but also secularism which constitutes the basic structure of the Constitution. There are fears that discarding secularism and equality before law in the citizenship law could lead to a theocratic state.