President Bhandari returns citizenship bill to Parliament calling for reviewHead of state returns bill, endorsed by both houses, listing concerns as she stresses swift passage of citizenship law.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Sunday evening returned the Citizenship Act amendment bill to the House of Representatives for a review—on the 15th day she received it from the Speaker for authentication.
The Speaker had sent the bill to Sheetal Niwas on July 31 for authentication after the lower house endorsed it on July 22 and the upper house on July 28.
According to a statement issued by the Sheetal Niwas on Sunday, the President sent the bill back to the House for a review.
“The President has sent the Citizenship Act amendment bill to the House of Representatives as per Article 113(3) of the constitution, along with a message that it needs a review,” reads a statement issued by Sagar Acharya, spokesperson for the President’s Office.
A bill, passed by both the houses, becomes a law only after getting the President’s seal.
The delay in authenticating the bill by the President had raised concerns among a section of people. The constitution, however, allows the President to take up to 15 days to study the bill before approving it or sending it back for a review.
Sheetal Niwas sources last week told the Post that President Bhandari was in consultation with experts, government officials, ministers and members of civil society.
An aide to the President said she has attached 15 concerns and suggestions while sending the bill back to the House.
The government on July 8 had tabled a new amendment bill to the Citizenship Act after withdrawing an old one which was finalised by the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of Parliament after deliberating on it for 22 months.
The new bill was not sent to the House committee for deliberations.
Since the bill originated in the lower house, it has been sent back to the lower house for a review, but it has to be sent to the upper house as well. As per Article 113(4) of the constitution, both the houses need to review the bill or they can send it back to the President in its existing form or after a review.
According to Roj Nath Pandey, spokesperson for the federal parliament, if the upper house does a review, the lower house has to accept it.
Once the bill is re-sent to the President, in its existing form or after a review, it must be authenticated within 15 days from the date of receiving it.
Thousands of children who were born to the parents who got their citizenship by birth have been waiting for the presidential nod to the bill to acquire citizenship by descent.
All eligible Nepalis born before September 20, 2015, the day the Constitution of Nepal was promulgated, were granted naturalised citizenship. However, their children failed to acquire citizenship in the absence of a law as the constitution said the provision to grant them citizenship would be guided by a federal law. Some 190,000 persons had acquired naturalised citizenship by birth.
The presidential approval would have paved the way for one born to a Nepali woman in Nepal and whose father is unidentified to get citizenship by descent. The bill, however, has a provision that the applicant’s mother must make a self-declaration that the father is not identified. The bill says she will be liable for action if it is found that her claim that the father is not identified turns out to be wrong.
The President has raised her concern over this provision of self-declaration. She has said the provision is inconsistent with Article 39 of the constitution related to fundamental rights of the children and Article 38 that guarantees women safe motherhood and reproductive rights.
Bhandari has said the provision requiring self-declaration by a mother will not only compel her to reveal her identity but will also amount to an attack on her self-respect. The provision needs to be revisited, she noted.
“As motherhood and reproduction are purely the rights of a mother guaranteed in the constitution, the self-declaration doesn’t match the constitutional provision.”
The President has found the provision contradictory to Article 16 of the constitution which ensures the right to live with dignity.
On concerns that she was quick to issue an ordinance by the erstwhile Oli government with similar provisions but has delayed the bill even after it was endorsed by the House, the President has said the making of laws through an ordinance and through a bill are two different processes.
“There is always a scope for revision of an ordinance in Parliament but that is not the case with the bill endorsed by Parliament,” she has noted. “The President cannot review an ordinance recommended by the prime minister.”
She has said that the constitution itself has enshrined the President with the right to send any bill for a revision if necessary.
When the earlier bill was tabled in the House, the major bone of contention was whether to grant naturalised citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men once they start the process to renounce the citizenship of the country of their origin when the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of Parliament was deliberating on the earlier bill.
As consensus continued to elude, the committee in June 2020 had endorsed the earlier bill with a provision that foreign women married to Nepali men will have to wait for seven years for naturalisation.
The new bill, however, omitted that provision.
During her consultations with leaders from different parties as well as civil society members, she was offered different views, some suggesting immediate authentication while others urging her to send it for a review, according to one of her aides.
The President has said in her message that there is a need to have a historical overview of the drafting processes of citizenship laws. The President has requested a study of the historical aspects and practices before amending the law. She has called for studying the very first law on citizenship issued in 1952, old constitutions and amendments to them to change the provisions related to providing citizenship, the citizenship law that was not authenticated by former King Birendra, and reports of the commissions to resolve the problems related to citizenship.
The President has also drawn the attention of Parliament to Article 10(2), saying the bill has failed to incorporate the constitutional provision of single federal citizenship with provincial identity. Article 10(2) states that “provision of single federal citizenship with provincial identity has been made in Nepal.”
She has also drawn the attention of the House to the report of the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee. Stating that it is sad that an issue like citizenship was a medium to create division in society, she urged the House to steer clear of controversies and focus on the subject matter.
“Whatever questions that arose time and again would have been automatically resolved had the House offered a credible and clear reason to the sovereign people for introducing a new bill by withdrawing an earlier bill on which the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee was said to have found consensus,” she has noted.
The President has said a lasting solution should be found to the issue of naturalised citizenship. In her message, the President has also said the concerns of Madhesh should be resolved in a permanent way. She has said that the citizenship issue is not an issue limited to Madhesh.
Stating that the Madheshi communities have been watching the developments relating to naturalised citizenship seriously, the President has asked the Parliament to find a permanent solution.
“The issue relating to granting citizenship through mother and citizenship by descent to those born to parents with citizenship by birth is prevalent in 53 districts, as per Home Ministry statistics,” she has said. “Per the Home Ministry, from the new Act, the number of beneficiaries in the eight districts of Madhesh stands at 35,000-40,000 while around 700,000 to 800,000 people across the country are expected to benefit from this Act.”
President Bhandari has also stressed that there should not be any delay in providing citizenship and urged the federal parliament to discuss and decide on the bill without delay and re-send it for authentication.
Law Minister Govinda Bandi said the President has exercised her constitutional rights and sent the bill back to Parliament and now it is the business of the sovereign Parliament.
“Now the process of the bill will re-start,” Bandi told the Post. “It’s now up to the Parliament whether to consider the concerns raised by the President and review the bill or send it back to her for authentication in its existing form.”