With parties still divided on Citizenship Amendment Bill, parliamentary sub-committee fails to make headwayThe primary bone of contention remains the provision related to obtaining naturalised citizenship through marriage.
Tsering D Gurung
After failing to agree upon the final draft of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, in March, had formed a sub-committee tasked with forging all-party consensus on contentious provisions.
Three months later, the sub-committee, which was initially given a two-week deadline, has failed to make any progress on the bill.
“The parties are still divided over the provision related to naturalised citizenship,” Bijay Subba, a lawmaker from the Nepal Communisty Party (NCP) who was appointed coordinator of the sub-committee, told the Post. “Since the House committee has been busy working on a lot of other bills, we haven’t been able to devote much time to discussing the citizenship bill.”
According to members of the sub-committee, the primary bone of contention remains the provision related to obtaining naturalised citizenship through marriage. As per the current Act, any foreign woman who marries a Nepali man, immediately qualifies for Nepali citizenship upon marriage.
Lawmakers from the Madhes, which has a high prevalence of cross-border marriages, want the provision to remain unchanged.
“We don’t want the provision to be changed because there’s no need for it,” said Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav, a lawmaker from the Federal Socialist Forum.
But those from other parties, including the ruling Nepal Communist Party, are demanding that a condition be added, which states that the foreign spouse of a Nepali man will only be eligible for citizenship after residing in the country for seven years.
The push for such a change seems motivated by a desire to maintain parity with the Indian Citizenship Act, which has a similar condition. Section 5 (1) (c) of the Indian Citizenship Act states that for a person who is married to a citizen of India, he/she should be “ordinarily resident in India for seven years before making an application for registration.”
“It’s unfair that Nepali women who get married to Indian men have to wait seven years to get their citizenship, but Indian women who are married to Nepali men can immediately receive citizenship,” said Laxmi Kumari Chaudhary, a lawmaker from the ruling party.
In order to forge consensus on the issue, lawmakers said, they are also mulling over the possibility of issuing national identity cards to the foreign spouses of Nepali men—directly after marriage—while they wait to complete the seven-year residency requirement.
“This card will allow them to enjoy all other rights except political rights,” said Subba. “Madhesi lawmakers have responded positively to this proposal.”
There has, however, been little discussion on the issue of granting citizenship to the foreign spouse of a Nepali woman. Women’s rights activists have repeatedly called on lawmakers to include a provision in the Act which clearly specifies a path to citizenship for a foreign spouse of a Nepali woman.
But lawmakers say that because there’s no such provision in the Constitution, it would be difficult for them to make such an inclusion in the Act.
“There are other ways for them to get citizenship,” said Subba. “They can apply for citizenship after fulfilling the 15-year residency requirement.”
With the House Affairs Committee caught up in discussions over other bills, it’s highly unlikely that the Citizenship Amendment Bill which has been languishing in the House for over a year will be passed during this Parliamentary session.
“Party leaders need to be more proactive,” said Chaudhary. “They need to realise that a lot of people are suffering because of the delay in passing this bill. Without their initiative, it will be impossible to reach consensus on the issue.”