Hindus from Pakistan who have faced religious persecution could soon find homes in India, as the Centre has decided to change existing laws that will make the process for getting Indian citizenship hassle-free for them.
Sources said a Bill to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 is likely to be introduced during the monsoon session of Parliament scheduled in July-August.
“Final touches are being given to the Cabinet proposal that is expected to get the nod this month itself,” said a home ministry official.
The BJP, in its election manifesto ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, had stated that India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus
There are several proposed changes included in the Cabinet note being prepared by the Union home ministry to get rid of all hurdles being faced by Pakistani Hindus who want to become Indian citizens.
In its election manifesto, the BJP had stated that India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.
According to the proposed amendments, Hindus seeking Indian citizenship could be given several relaxations. A renunciation certificate that is compulsory from the home country to get citizenship could be done away with for them. A reduction in registration fees is also part of the proposals.
“While the amount is Rs 5,000 for each member of the family, for Pakistani Hindus it could be as low as Rs 100,” said a home ministry official.
Another major change proposed in the existing legislation is that procedure for dealing with citizenship matters could be delegated to the district level, so the district magistrate and Superintendent of Police would examine applications.
“This will cut the long-drawn process and instead of applicants approaching home ministry, it can be facilitated quickly,” said a home ministry official.
The amendments to the Citizenship Act will also allow them to open bank accounts, and get driving licenses, PAN cards and Aadhaar cards.
The changes will also allow Hindus from Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have been targeted in their country to become citizens of India.
Though the exact numbers are not known, there are around 2 lakh Hindus and Sikhs from these countries living as refugees in India. 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.
A day after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj promised help to Pakistani Hindu girl Mashal Maheshwari, Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting to review the status of facilities being extended to minorities from neighbouring countries living in India.
“The present government has taken a number of steps to address the problem being faced by minority communities in neighbouring countries who have come to India due to religious persecution in their country,” the statement said.
Earlier the Narendra Modi government had rolled out an online system for Long Term Visa applications that allowed them to live in India for a period of five years.
Within a year of assuming power the BJP-led NDA government gave over 4,000 citizenships to Hindus from neighbouring countries, while the UPA had handed out a little over 1,000 in its five-year rule.
The home ministry also organised 26 Special Camps at district level in of Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, UP, Karnataka, Mahashtra, AP, Haryana and NCT of Delhi in 2015.