Citizenship and Related Issues

Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) and their concerns

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas and its theme and related facts

Mains level : Overseas citizens of India, and their concerns

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Context

  • Government will observe the 17th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The day is meant to celebrate the contributions of India’s diaspora. The theme for this year’s event is, “Diaspora: Reliable Partners for India’s Progress in Amrit Kaal”.

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Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas

  • Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (Non-Resident Indian Day) is a celebratory day observed (starting in 2003) on 9 January by the Republic of India to mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community towards the development of India. The day commemorates the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to Mumbai on 9 January 1915.

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Who are the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI)?

  • OCI are not citizens: Overseas Citizenship of India is a form of permanent residency available to people of Indian origin and their spouses which allows them to live and work in India indefinitely. Despite its name, OCI status is not citizenship and does not grant the right to vote in Indian elections or hold public office.
  • It can be revoked: The Indian government can revoke OCI status in a wide variety of circumstances. As of 2020, there are 6 million holders of OCI cards among the Indian Overseas diaspora.

What are the concerns of OCI/NRI persons?

  • Scheme for dual citizenship: Originally conceptualised in 2003 by the then NDA government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the OCI scheme was envisaged as a dual-citizenship project.
  • All rights of citizen of India: OCIs would enjoy all rights as normal citizens except the right to hold public office and cast their vote.
  • Citizenship to OCI from certain countries: The Vajpayee government introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2003 in Parliament. The statement accompanying the Bill, that was passed by Parliament in December that year clearly stated that it was meant to provide dual citizenship to persons of Indian origin from certain countries.
  • Present government Downgraded OCI status: Nearly two decades later, the Union Home Ministry is downgrading the OCI scheme from dual-citizenship to virtually a residency permit scheme. The ministry’s statements in circulars and courts declaring that OCIs are not Indian citizens and that they would not enjoy any fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution have been particularly disheartening.

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What are the ambiguities about the downgrading of OCI status?

  • Confusion over rights: There is considerable legal confusion about the status of OCIs. Can they practice certain professions like journalism without prior government permission? Do contributions by OCIs residing in India to charities/schools violate the country’s laws?
  • Problem in donation: During the pandemic, resident OCIs had to ensure their donations went only to NGOs that had FCRA clearance. As a result, many local level initiatives could not be supported with their monetary contributions.
  • Confusion over the status: Very often OCIs have been confronted with remarks, including at courts, that we are foreigners in India. Unlike several other countries, the Indian Constitution does not have exhaustive provisions on citizenship.

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Making a case of citizenship for OCI

  • Vasudaiva kutumbakam philosophy: The Government of India announced that India’s Presidency of G20 will be grounded in the principles of “Vasudaiva kutumbakam” wherein the entire world is considered as one family.
  • Push to Mobility for diaspora: Hopefully such political homilies are reflected in the way the government thinks about the idea of citizenship in relation to the increasingly mobile Indian diaspora.
  • Injustice to people born in India: Clearly, an elemental question is whether it is proper to cancel the citizenship of people born in the country, and who have continued engagement with it, merely because they have acquired foreign citizenship. No other progressive democracy does that today, even though most countries had similar laws when India enacted the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • Removing the outdated laws: In a recent address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised Chief Secretaries of states and Union Territories to focus on quality of service over outdated laws and rules, to achieve the goal of making India a developed country by 2047. Realising the essence of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2003 is in the spirit of the PM’s directive.

Conclusion

  • OCI contribute immensely to India at home and abroad. But granting a citizenship to Overseas citizens of India will create structural asymmetry in economic, social, political life of ordinary people of India. It will open the flood gates for demand for dual citizenships from other sections of diaspora.

Mains Question

Q. What are problems of Overseas Citizens of India? Discuss why OCI deserve the better status in India?

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