The government has proposed to aid minority communities who are facing religious persecution while residing in bordering areas such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to immigrate and become citizens of India.
The BJP had earlier stated in its election manifesto that India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.
There are around 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Kutch, Bhopal, Indore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Delhi and Lucknow. Though the exact numbers are not known, there are approximately 2 lakh Hindus and Sikhs living as refugees in neighbouring regions around India.
The decision has been taken under the Passport Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act, 1946, according to a statement by the Home Ministry. Sources suggest that a bill to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 is likely to be introduced during the monsoon session of Parliament scheduled in July-August. The government has also issued two notifications in the Official Gazette today under the Passport Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act, 1946.
The announcements have been made a day after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj promised help to Pakistani Hindu girl Mashal Maheshwari. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is said to have held a meeting to review the status of facilities being extended to minorities from neighbouring countries living in India.
Ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in May 2014, several steps, including issuance of long-term visa (LTV), for these refugees have been initiated.
In September 2015, the government had decided to allow minority refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan to stay even after expiry of their visas on humanitarian grounds.
In April 2015, the Home Ministry rolled out an online system for LTV applications and for their processing by various security agencies.
In November 2014, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had approved a number of facilities for them, including manual acceptance of applications for citizenship and consideration of an affidavit filed before the authority in return for citizenship renunciation certificate in case of the individual having a Pakistani passport.The same facilities were decided to be extended to the children of such refugees.
Bureaucratic hurdles to be simplified
According to the proposed amendments, Hindus seeking Indian citizenship can be given several relaxations. A renunciation certificate that is compulsory from the home country to get citizenship can be done away with for them.
The facilities also include permitting opening of bank accounts without prior approval of the Reserve Bank of India, subject to certain conditions, permission for purchase of dwelling unit for self-occupation and suitable accommodation for carrying out self-employment without prior approval of the RBI, subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.
Issue of driving licence, PAN and Aadhaar cards, permission to take up self-employment or for doing business, which is considered safe from security point of view, dispensing with the requirement of personal appearance before the foreigners registration officer for registration are a few other facilities being planned.
Allowing free movement within the state/UT where they are staying instead of restricting their movement within the place of stay, allowing free movement to those living in the National Capital Region (NCR), simplifying the procedure for visit to a place in any other state/UT are being proposed.
It has also been proposed to simplify the procedure for grant of Indian citizenship to such nationals belonging to minority communities in Pakistan. Collector, deputy commissioner or the district magistrate will be empowered to authorise, in his absence, in writing an officer not below the rank of sub-divisional magistrate for administering the oath of allegiance to the applicant.
Powers will be given to the collectors or district magistrates of a few select districts in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for a period of two years for registration of such Pakistani nationals as citizens of India.
"Reduction of fees for registration as citizen of India for nationals of Pakistan belonging to minority communities from the existing level ranging from Rs. 5,000 (under registration) to Rs. 15,000 (under naturalisation), to a uniform fee of Rs 100/- each at the time of application and at the time of grant of certificate of registration/ naturalisation," the notification says.