From Reorganization Of J&K To CAA : 5 Controversial Acts Of 2019

As per the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs’ website, a total of 59 Bills were introduced in 2019 in the Indian Parliament. Out of these, 3 were passed only in the Lok Sabha (The Lower House), 2 were passed in only the Rajya Sabha (The Upper House), and 45 were passed in both the Houses.

From the list of Bills passed that, following the assent of the President, became an Act, I have chosen to review the primary objectives of the following five Acts, that garnered the most attention of the public:

  1. The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019
  2. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019
  3. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019
  4. The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019
  5. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

1. The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act

The draft of The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on June 24, 2019. It was passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on July 04, 2019, and July 08, 2019, respectively. It comes under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.

As per the Gazette of India, this is “An Act to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and further to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002”.

One of the reasons for its hype in the media is the permission accorded by it to the Aadhar holder to voluntarily use their Aadhaar in either physical or electronic procedure to authenticate their identity. The Aadhar holder has the right to know and choose from other valid means to verify their identity, and they will not be denied any service, for refusing to provide or not having an Aadhaar number. Further, if the government makes, for any service, the collection of Aadhar details mandatory, none can deny providing the same.

The use of the word voluntary in point 6 in this Act is the point of contention. Essentially, sub-section 7 of point 6, if the government wants you to submit your biometric details, you have no right to refute. It means, if asked for, you cannot deny providing your Aadhar simply because you don’t wish to for whatever reason no matter how valid. So, how is it voluntary?

It is evident that sub-section 6 basically refers to any entity that is not under the ambit of the government. This move is most welcome and positive, especially after telecom companies were reportedly forcibly linking the mobile numbers of their subscribers to Aadhars despite the Supreme Court ruling against such data acquisition by the private entities. But in reality, even after the enactment of this Act, which levies a penalty on bodies/individuals indulging in such activities of forceful procurement of Aadhar data, cases of companies refusing to entertain a person upon refusal to provide Aadhar have not ceased.

Furthermore, reports of services being denied for the lack of Aadhar are commonplace. News of children from poor families being denied admission to schools, elderly people being denied health care facilities, financially backward households being denied ration are some of the very basic necessities of life that are causing problems to a large section of the society only because they do not have Aadhar. These people are mostly not educated enough to understand and solve such legal matters. It is that unfortunate section of the society which has to live on a daily-wage basis. Their fight is for food. The Government must make sure that the implementation of the law as described in written takes place at the ground level. Merely passing a law is not the solution.

There is no denying that Aadhar is a beneficial scheme if implemented properly and with the right intentions. The Government has taken the right step towards assisting citizens from the harassment of some frivolous entities. Having said that, the Government ought to draft policies that are clear-cut with such word usage that may not be interpreted in more than one way. Too many lawyers in the Parliament!

2. Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act

NEW DELHI, INDIA – AUGUST 5: Posters and placards are seen as members of various Left parties and their supporters protest against the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution and the proposed bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at Jantar Mantar on August 5, 2019 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The draft to The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act was introduced in the Parliament on August 05, 2019. It was passed in the Rajya Sabha on the same day, and in the Lok Sabha on August 06, 2019. It comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

This Act was in the glare of publicity because it was preceded by a Presidential Order under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which superseded the 1954 Presidential Order. The dissolution of the 1954 order resulted in the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution which accorded the state of Jammu and Kashmir with special provisions.

The revocation of the said articles snatched from Jammu and Kashmir its special status and paved the way for the introduction of the Reorganisation Bill. This gained the attention of the media all over the world and generally garnered negative remarks from the international media.

This Act reorganises the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, viz. the eponymous union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and that of Ladakh. While it provisions for J&K to have a  legislative assembly, it states that Ladakh will be administered by only a Lieutenant Governor. As per this law, the new union territory of Ladakh comprises of the districts of Kargil and Leh, whereas all the remaining districts come under the jurisdiction of the UT of J&K. Of the six Lok Sabha seats assigned to the former state of J&K, 1 will be assigned to Ladakh and 5 will be accorded to the UT of J&K. The law also declared that the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir will function as the High Court for both the union territories.

This law faced severe criticism from certain sections of people in India and abroad. It was asserted that the way the said Articles were repealed was unlawful and undemocratic. Arguments were made that such an annulment of the laws ought to be dismissed for it violated Article 14 of the Constitution for non-consideration of pertinent aspects and for not assigning a hearing to the affected parties – including the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Furthermore, the revocation was accompanied by heavy use of armed forces, occlusion of the telephone lines and the internet in the Kashmir Valley. A number of prominent Kashmiri statesmen and legislators were taken into detention, including the former chief ministers, Smt. Mehbooba Mufti, Shri Omar Abdullah, and Shri Farooq Abdullah, among others.  Government officials justified these constraints as planned to forestall violence. As of the time of this writing, the aforementioned leaders are still in custody, in fact, their detention has been extended for the coming 3 months.

International human rights federations reprimanded the revocation decree and the manner in which it was implemented by employing armed forces in huge numbers and cutting communication. The use of force to suppress the voice of the locals did not go down well with many. The government has maintained its stand that the situation has remained normal but the same has not been apprised by the local inhabitants, as the response from the Kashmir Valley has been cunningly suppressed, because of the imposed communication blackout.

On a diplomatic front, except for Pakistan, China, and their supporting countries, this matter remained a non-issue for other nations, which either stayed mum or supported India in this affair, acknowledging that this is an exclusively internal matter of hers and none has any right whatsoever to make any type of comment regarding it.

3. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019

Under the Motor Vehicles Act, penalties were increased multi-fold. Reports of challans more than or close to the cost of the vehicle were also registered.

The draft of The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on June 15, 2019. It was passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on July 23, 2019, and July 31, 2019, respectively. It comes under the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.

India, as a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety of 2015, intended to decrease road accidents and reduce traffic casualties by 2022. And thus the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act were acted out.

This Act proved to be a major cause of upheaval in the lives of numerous people, after most of the amendments came into effect from September 01, 2019. This meant that driving faults made enormous blows in monthly budgets. Under this act, penalties were increased multi-fold. Reports of challans more than or close to the cost of the vehicle were also registered.

In my opinion, fines and penalties so high are excessively harsh, and considering the low incomes, this act seems like an attack on the middle-class man. Also, with high tax rates going hand in hand with deplorable road conditions, this new law seems to be a cruel joke on people.

It is a fact that some people drive carelessly and endanger not only their lives but also of others who are around them. But the condition of the roads are extremely poor and many a time, it is the state of the road that is the reason for the accident, rather than the act of the driver.

The public transport system, the roads, footpaths, and drainage systems all need to be top-notch, to make sure that people do not suffer in any situation, in any weather. First rains of the season turn our roads into swimming pools. The government ought to understand that road safety can only be implemented when roads are safe.

If your driving has no flaw, you should not be scared of this rule of law.

4. The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019

The draft to The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act was introduced in the Parliament on November 11, 2019. It was passed in the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2019, and in the Rajya Sabha on December 12, 2019. It comes under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

As per the Gazette of India, this is “An Act to provide special provisions for the National Capital Territory of Delhi for recognising the property rights of resident in unauthorized colonies by securing the rights of ownership or transfer or mortgage in favour of the residents of such colonies who are possessing properties on the basis of Power of Attorney, Agreement to Sale, Will, possession letter or any other documents including documents evidencing payment of consideration and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

Of the nearly 1.2 crore people that reside in Delhi, around 40 lakh live in unauthorised colonies that are spread across the vast 175 square-km landmasses of Delhi. Regularisation of such unauthorised colonies has forever been a rickety undertaking as the succeeding governments have hesitated to make the last call.

When the AAP issued its manifesto for the 2015 elections, it assured the people of Delhi with 70 promises. Promise number 56 was “Regularisation and Transformation of Unauthorised Colonies”.

After handsomely coming to power in 2015, the AAP Delhi government redrafted and approved a regulation for the regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi. The government of India was requested, by the Delhi government, to give notice for the same, with the purpose of regularising all those unauthorised colonies, where the built-up area was more than 50% as of January 01, 2015.

In its March 2016 annual budget, the Delhi government, under CM Arvind Kejriwal and Finance Minister Manish Sisodia, allocated Rs 300 crore to Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (DSIIDC), for the execution of development works in unauthorised colonies.

In its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi had called upon to regularize unauthorised colonies in Delhi. It was evident that the issue of regularisation was being brought up with the intent of luring people for the elections scheduled for early 2020.

In a press conference on July 18, 2019, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal contended that the AAP government will regularise unauthorised colonies in the National Capital Territory (NCT), and proposed a set of parameters, to regularise the 1,797 colonies; which include charging 1% cost of circle rate of land, up to 200 square metre plot from occupiers in addition to a minimal penalty.

Following the course of AAP, the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry, under the BJP-led Central government, formulated a cabinet note, to grant land possession rights to people living in 1,797 unauthorised colonies. Though, the Act did not apply to 69 colonies acknowledged by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), including Anantram Dairy, Mahendru Enclave, and Sainik Farms.

It is a fact that the matter for the regularisation of the unauthorised colonies was raised by the AAP government and considering polls in Delhi in early 2020 the BJP government also jumped in the wagon, and very quickly, introduced and passed the Bill in the Parliament.

Some may call it an election-oriented move, but it is a win-win situation for everybody. The occupants who have been living at their domiciles for decades will finally get ownership rights. The governments will get a handsome amount of money in exchange for the grant of these rights.

5. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

Amit Sha, Anti CAA protest
The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in the Parliament amid hue and cry from the opposition and protests all across India.

The draft of The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was introduced in and passed by the Lok Sabha on December 09, 2019. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019. It comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

This Act was passed in the Parliament amid hue and cry from the opposition and protests all across India. This Act amends the 1955 Citizenship Act. It is for the first time in the history of independent India, that religion is being used as a legal criterion, for deciding refuge and nationality.

As per this Act, Indian citizenship will be accorded to religious minorities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who have been victims of religious persecution in their native country. The Act specifies that the religious minorities must be either Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Parsis, or Sikhs, i.e. people of only non-Muslim faith. Immigrants who entered India before 2015, will also no longer be considered as unlawful settlers. The Act also provides protection to such refugees, tackling any legal cases after being discovered as illegal drifters.

As per the new law, the undocumented refugees must have inhabited in India, in the last one year and for at least six years in total, to meet the requirements for citizenship; in contrast, the 1955 law stipulates 12 years’ residency as a prerequisite.

For obvious, clear-to-the-eye reasons, this Act is being claimed to be in violation of the secular ideology of India and its constitution. The new law raises many valid questions and further induces questions about the intent of the government, which is not known for its secular philosophy.

The opponents of the new law argue that it breaches the Fundamental Right to Equality stated by Article 14, because it violates the principle of “equality before the law” and the “equal protection of laws” assured to all individuals, including non-citizens. Naturalisation and citizenship in the name of the religion, they say, is total discrimination and against the basic structure of the humanitarian and secular Constitution of India.

One of the valid and major criticisms of the Act is the exclusion of the religious minorities from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and China-administered Kashmir (Aksai Chin), which the government asserts are undividable parts of India.

  • The leaders claim in their parliament speeches, that they will sacrifice their lives to get back PoK, but, by the logic of the Act, won’t let a persecuted Hindu from PoK take refuge in India!?
  • Questioning the reason and claims of the government; does it not consider the people of PoK and Aksai Chin its own?

If the intention is to safeguard tormented minorities, then why Muslim sects like Ahmadiyas, Bahaiis, and Shias who are more oppressed in Bangladesh and Pakistan than Hindus or Sikhs, have been left out of the Act’s purview. Likewise, how can the Hazara community of Afghanistan be excluded? The problem of minority persecution is the worst within the Muslim sects in Islamic countries.

Though Bangladesh is technically an Islamic nation, their Constitution promises equal rights to people of any faith or religion. The inclusion of Bangladesh but the prohibition on the migrants from China, Maldives, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka raises more questions.

The harassment of Uighur Muslims in China is hidden from none. Inflicted atrocities upon the Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka are also well documented. The genocide of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar is currently under trial in the International Court of Justice.

After severe protests, the selective exclusion of the north-eastern region from the purview of the law has also not gone down well with its challengers. The new law is argued to be against the very fabric of the Assam Accord of 1985. Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Manipur are excluded from the ambit of the law. Manipur will be included in the ‘Inner Line Permit’system. Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura are also more or less sequestered from it.

What Happens If Some Persecuted Non-Muslim Religious Minority Migrates To The Aforementioned Areas?

The motive of the Act has been put to question by the Muslim community in India. The Act has been enacted at a time when the National Citizenship Register (NCR), which means to get rid of illegitimate residents migrated from predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, is under the process of implementation. On August 31, 2019, the final list of NRC omitted nearly 20 lakh people, of different faiths, from its last citizenship list in Assam.

  • Is the government’s intention to essentially legalise the nationality of all those non-Muslims (around 13 lakh), who were identified as illegal immigrants as per the NRC?
  • Is it a cover-up for the inefficient implementation of NRC, which landed a large number of people in detention centres that also included former personnel of the armed forces? Remember a whopping Rs. 1600 crores were spent on that exercise! And, it has not yet been implemented.
  • As per UNICEF, every year about 42% births go unregistered in India. How does the government plan to identify illegal residents?
  • Even if the government rightfully identifies the infiltrators, where will they send them? Of course, Bangladesh (or any other country) will not take them back. Saying “we shall throw them into the Bay of Bengal” is all at once – funny, deplorable, irresponsible, and ridiculous.

The law has initiated extensive discussions on equality before the law, and the necessity to provide refuge to foreign persecuted communities. The questions and arguments by the opponents seem to be valid to some extent and have put under scanner the true motive of the non-secular pro-Hindu ruling party. Various valid questions have been raised.

  • Why is it necessary to accord citizenship to refugees? Why not just help them in every possible manner and send them back to their native land at an appropriate time?
  • Is not offering citizenship to illegal immigrants against the very stand of the government, which by the means of NRC aims to send back outsiders?
  • This law is being implemented retrospectively, from 2014, why?
  • What is the requirement to reduce the period of necessary habitation for acquiring citizenship from 12 years to 5 years?
  • How do you figure out whether a person has been subject to any type of persecution?
  • Does the government really intend to isolate Muslims as a class?

The law has not gone down well with the USA as well. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has threatened the Indian government officials with sanctions if Muslims are not included among ‘persecuted’ minorities. USCIRF is the same organisation that had proposed denial of the USA visa to current Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi.

There is no doubt that humanitarian issues are very important and must be looked after diligently, without any type of bias. Presently, the Indian government ought to focus on its citizens, especially at a time when the country’s economy is dwindling and educated unemployment is at a record high.

Furthermore, at a time when the world is keeping an eye at us following the abrogation of Article 370 from the constitution, Indian policymakers must refrain from taking any such step that provides anybody with an issue that may be exploited at an international stage.

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