The right to petition Parliament
Subscribe to the PRS Blog
What is petitioning? Petitioning is a formal process that involves sending a written appeal to Parliament. The public can petition Parliament to make MPs aware of their opinion and/ or to request action. Who petitions and how? Anyone can petition Parliament. The only requirement is that petitions be submitted in the prescribed format, in either Hindi or English, and signed by the petitioner. In the case of Lok Sabha, the petition is normally required to be countersigned by an MP. According to the Rules of Lok Sabha, "This practice is based on the principle that petitions are normally presented by members in their capacity as elected representatives of the people, and that they have to take full responsibility for the statements made therein and answer questions on them in the House, if any, are raised." Petitions can be sent to either House in respect of:
- Any Bills/ other matters that are pending before the House
- Any matter of general public interest relating to the work of the Central Government
The petition should not raise matters that are currently sub-judice or for which remedy is already available under an existing law of the Central Government. Petition formats can be accessed at: Lok Sabha; Rajya Sabha What happens to the petition once it has been submitted? Once submitted, the petition may either be tabled in the House or presented by an MP on behalf of the petitioner. These are then examined by the Committee on Petitions. The Committee may choose to circulate the petition and undertake consultations before presenting its report (For instance, the Petition praying for development of Railway network in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan States). It may also invite comments from the concerned Ministries. The recommendations of the Committee are then presented in the form of a report to the House. Previous reports can be accessed at the relevant committee pages on the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha websites.
The Minister of Home Affairs introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 today in Lok Sabha. It is scheduled to be taken up for discussion and passing by the House later today. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and seeks to make foreign illegal migrants of certain religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. In this blog, we look at the criteria for determining citizenship in India, discuss how the Bill proposes to change the criteria, and highlight other key changes proposed by the Bill.
How is citizenship acquired in India?
In India, citizenship is regulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Act specifies that citizenship may be acquired in India through five methods – by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India. 
Can illegal migrants acquire citizenship?
An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship. An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents. An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India, and deported or imprisoned.
In September 2015 and July 2016, the central government exempted certain groups of illegal migrants from being imprisoned or deported.  These are illegal migrants who came into India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious communities.
How does the Bill seek to change the criteria for determining citizenship?
The Bill proposes that the specified class of illegal migrants from the three countries will not be treated as illegal migrants, making them eligible for citizenship. On acquiring citizenship, such migrants shall be deemed to be Indian citizens from the date of their entry into India and all legal proceedings regarding their status as illegal migrants or their citizenship will be closed.
The Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, if the person meets certain qualifications. One of the qualifications is that the person must have resided in India or been in central government service for the last 12 months and at least 11 years of the preceding 14 years. For the specified class of illegal migrants, the number of years of residency has been relaxed from 11 years to five years.
Are the provisions of the Bill applicable across the country?
The Bill clarifies that the proposed amendments on citizenship to the specified class of illegal migrants will not apply to certain areas. These are: (i) the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, and (ii) the states regulated by the “Inner Line” permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873. These Sixth Schedule tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District. Further, the Inner Line Permit regulates visit of all persons, including Indian citizens, to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Is the differentiation among the specified class of illegal migrants and all other illegal migrants reasonable?
The Bill makes only certain illegal migrants eligible for citizenship. These are persons belonging to the six specified religious communities, from the three specified countries, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and do not reside in the Sixth Schedule areas or in the states regulated by the Inner Line Permit states. This implies that all other illegal migrants will not be able to claim the benefit of citizenship conferred by the Bill, and may continue to be prosecuted as illegal migrants. Any provision which distinguishes between two groups may violate the standard of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, unless one can show a reasonable rationale for doing so.  The Bill provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of (a) their country of origin, (b) religion, (c) date of entry into India, and (d) place of residence in India. The question is whether these factors serve a reasonable purpose to justify the differential treatment. We examine this below.
The Bill classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Statement of Objects and Reasons (SoR) in the Bill reasons that millions of citizens of undivided India were living in Pakistan and Bangladesh, no reason has been provided to explain the inclusion of Afghanistan. The SoR also states that these countries have a state religion, which has resulted in religious persecution of minority groups. However, there are other countries which may fit this qualification. For instance, two of India’s neighboring countries, Sri Lanka (Buddhist state religion)  and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism) , have had a history of persecution of Tamil Eelams (a linguistic minority in Sri Lanka), and the Rohingya Muslims, respectively. , , 
Further, there are other religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (considered non-Muslims in that country) , and atheists in Bangladesh  who have faced religious persecution and may have illegally migrated to India. Given that the objective of the Bill is to provide citizenship to migrants escaping from religious persecution, it is not clear why illegal migrants belonging to other neighbouring countries, or belonging to religious minorities from these three specified countries, have been excluded from the Bill.
The Bill also creates further differentiation between the specified class of illegal migrants based on when they entered India (before or after December 31, 2014), and where they live in India (provisions not applicable to Sixth Schedule and Inner Line Permit areas). However, the reasons provided to explain the distinction is unclear. Note that certain restrictions apply to persons (both citizens and foreigners) in the Sixth Schedule areas and in the states regulated by the Inner Line Permit. Once an illegal migrant residing in these areas acquires citizenship, he would be subject to the same restrictions in these areas, as are applicable to other Indian citizens. Therefore, it is unclear why the Bill excludes illegal migrants residing in these areas.
How does the Bill change the regulations for Overseas Citizens of India?
The Bill also amends the provisions on registration of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). OCI cardholders are foreigners who are persons of Indian origin. For example, they may have been former Indian citizens, or children of current Indian citizens. An OCI enjoys benefits such as the right to travel to India without a visa, or to work and study here. At present, the government may cancel a person’s OCI registration on various grounds specified in the Act. In case of a cancellation, an OCI residing in India may be required to leave the country. The Bill adds another ground for cancelling OCI registration — violation of any law notified by the central government. However, the Bill does not provide any guidance on the nature of laws which the central government may notify. The Supreme Court has noted that this guidance is necessary to set limits on the authority’s powers and to avoid any arbitrariness in exercise of powers.  Therefore, the powers given to the government under the Bill may go beyond the permissible limits of valid delegation.
Note: The blog has been updated to remove the following issue: “Second, the Bill delegates the power to notify laws and not offences. This may result in the cancellation of OCI for minor violations. For instance, the government may want to cancel the registration of an OCI who is found guilty of sedition, under the Indian Penal Code, 1861. However, since the government cannot notify one offence, it will need to notify the entire Indian Penal Code, which would include minor offences such as rash and negligent driving.”
. Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
. State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75.
. State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75.
. Article 9 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka states: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”
. Articles 361 and 362 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar state the following. “361. The Union recognizes special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union. 362. The Union also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Animism as the religions existing in the Union at the day of the coming into operation of this Constitution.”
. It is estimated that there are over a lakh Sri Lankan refugees in India, two-thirds of them in government camps. See https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/why-lankan-refugees-are-reluctant-to-go-back-home/articleshow/65591130.cms
. “Why India is refusing refuge to Rohingyas”, Times of India, September 6, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/why-india-is-refusing-refuge-to-rohingyas/articleshow/60386974.cms.
. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan passed in 1974 effectively declared Ahmaddiyas as non-Muslims.
. Hamdard Dawakhana and Anr., v. The Union of India (UOI) and Ors., AIR1960SC554; Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies and Ors. vs. The State of Bihar and Ors., 2016(4) PLJR369.
The Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is scheduled to be passed in this Winter Session. The Bill amends the Arms Act, 1959 which deals with the regulation of arms in India. The Act defines arms to include firearms, swords, and anti-aircraft missiles. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill noted that law enforcement agencies have indicated a growing connection between the possession of illegal firearms and criminal activities. In this context, the Bill seeks to reduce the number of firearms allowed per person, and increases punishments for certain offences under the Act. The Bill also introduces new categories of offences. In this post, we explain key provisions of the Bill.
How many firearms are allowed per person?
The Arms Act, 1959 allows a person to have three licenced firearms. The Bill proposes to reduce this to one firearm per person. This would also include any firearms that may have been given as inheritance or as an heirloom. Excess firearms must be deposited at the nearest police station or licensed arms dealer within one year of the passing of the Bill. The Bill also extends the duration of a licence from three years to five years.
Note that in 2017, 63,219 firearms were seized from across India under the Arms Act, 1959. Out of these, only 3,525 (5.5%) were licenced firearms. Further, 36,292 cases involving firearms were registered under the Act in 2017, of which only 419 (1.1%) cases involved licenced firearms.  This trend persisted even at the level of specific crimes, where only 8.5% of the murders committed using firearms involved licenced firearms. 
What changes are being made to existing offences?
Presently, the Act bans manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing or proofing of firearms without license. The Bill additionally prohibits obtaining or procuring un-licensed firearms, and the conversion of one category of firearms to another without a license. The latter includes any modifications done to enhance the performance of a firearm.
The Bill also proposes increased punishments for several existing offences. For example, the Act specifies the punishment for: (i) dealing in un-licensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, conversion, (ii) the shortening or conversion of a firearm without a licence, and (iii) import or export of banned firearms. The punishment for these offences currently is between three years and seven years, along with a fine. The Bill increases the minimum punishment to seven years and the maximum to life imprisonment.
The Act also punishes dealing in prohibited firearms (such as automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles) without a license, with imprisonment between seven years and life imprisonment, along with fine. The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to 10 years. Additionally, the punishment for cases in which the usage of prohibited arms results in the death of a person has been revised. The punishment has been updated from the existing punishment of death penalty to allow for death penalty or life imprisonment, along with a fine.
Are there any new offences being introduced?
The Bill adds certain news offences. For example, forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces has been made a crime under the Bill. The punishment for doing so is imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with a fine. Additionally, the Bill punishes the negligent use of firearms, such as celebratory gunfire during weddings or religious ceremonies which endanger human life or personal safety of others. The proposed punishment in this case is imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both.
The Bill also adds a definition of ‘illicit trafficking’. It is defined to include the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunitions into or out of India where the firearms are either not marked as per the Act or violate the provisions of the Act. The Bill makes illicit trafficking punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.
Does the Bill address issues of organised crime?
The Bill also introduces a definition of ‘organised crime’. ‘Organised crime’ has been defined as continued unlawful activity by a person, either as a member of a syndicate or on its behalf, by using unlawful means, such as violence or coercion, to gain economic or other benefits. An organised crime syndicate refers to two or more persons committing organised crime.
The Bill introduces harsher punishments for members of an organised crime syndicate. For example, for the possession of an unlicensed firearm, the minimum term for an individual would be seven years, extendable to life imprisonment and liable to a fine. However, the possession of unlicensed firearms by a member of a syndicate will be punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine. This increased punishment also applies to non-members contravening provisions of the Act on behalf of a syndicate.
 Crime in India 2017, National Crime Records Bureau, October 21, 2019, http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2017/pdfs/CII2017-Full.pdf.
 Crime in India 2016, National Crime Records Bureau, October 10, 2017, http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2016/pdfs/NEWPDFs/Crime%20in%20India%20-%202016%20Complete%20PDF%20291117.pdf.