Section 6A of Citizenship Act, 1955 and Assam Accord
The section 6A in the Citizenship Act, 1955 contains the provisions with respect to citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord (1985). This section was introduced through an amendment made in 1985, in the Citizenship Act, 1955. The section 6A of the act says that all those who came to Assam on or after 1 January, 1966, but before 25th March, 1971 from the specified territory (it includes all territories of Bangladesh at the time of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985), and since then are residents of Assam, must register themselves under section-18 for citizenship. Therefore, this act fixes March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.
What is Assam Accord?
The years between 1979 and 1985 witnessed huge political instability, collapse of state government, president’s rule and unprecedented ethnic violence in Assam. The elections conducted by the government were totally boycotted and violence based on linguistic and communal identities killed thousands in the state. Finally, to cope up with the situation, the then Rajiv Gandhi government signed a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with the leaders of the movement on 15 August 1985 called Assam Accord. As per this accord:
- all those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship including the right to vote.
- Migrants those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported.
- Those who entered between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship.
What is the current issue?
In recent years, several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court against the constitutional validity of the Section 6A in the Citizenship Act. This is because the new rule by the central government is in contrast to Article 6 of the Constitution, according to which the cut-off for determining citizenship in India is July 19, 1948. Several groups from Assam such as Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, Asam Sahitya Sabha, Assam Public Works and All Assam Ahom have challenged the section 6A of the act in the court, citing reason that the section is showing discrimination in grant of citizenship to the migrants in the country.
What has happened till now?
To examine, whether the Section 6-A violated the Constitution and contradicted other provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955. In December, 2014, a two-judge Bench of Justices Rajan Gogoi and RF Nariman suggested the matter to be put before a five-judge Constitution Bench. Since then, a huge number of facts and figures have been put in front of the court about the Section 6A, Assam Accord and Migrants issue. While some have supported the Accord and Section 6A, others have opposed these. Here are some of the sayings of the political groups/organisations:
- The Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha has opposed the accord stating that a different cut-off date for regularising illegal migrants who enter Assam is against the constitution. It also laid down the facts that Assam Accord has failed to fulfil its promise of deporting illegal Bangladeshi migrants, which has changed the demographics of Assam to large extent and it now poses threat to constitutional and economic safeguards of indigenous communities of the state.
- The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), whose then leaders had signed the accord, backed the provisions of the Accord. The union said that the accord has provisions for detection and deportation of foreigners, apart from providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people. Also, at the time of signing of record, an all-party consensus was obtained. So it only depends on effectiveness of the state and central government to implement the provisions and clauses of the accord.
What has been done by the Government so far in this regard?
Recently, the central government decided to constitute a nine member committee with representatives from the Centre, the state government and AASU to ensure time-bound implementation of all clauses of the Accord. The government will have special focus on Clause-6. Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states that central government will come up with constitutional, legislative and administrative measures to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the indigenous communities of Assam. But as of now very less has been done by the government in this regard. Government has also promised for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and has set December 2017 as the date for completion of the process. Also, the work for fencing the India-Bangladesh border with barbed wire is in progress for strengthening border security and checking infiltration.