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JPC meet on citizenship Bill ends on stormy note

JPC meet on citizenship Bill ends on stormy note

NEW DELHI: The crucial meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Tuesday ended on a stormy note though a final draft of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is likely to be adopted by December 11.

JPC chairman Rajendra Agrawal told newsmen that few members wanted more time because it was a sensitive and delicate issue. "We will meet again on November 27 and discuss clause by clause the amendments suggested by the members," he said.

The broad schedule hammered out today was that the meeting on November 27 will discuss the amendments suggested by the members, including the suggestion to segregate Bangladesh from the Bill. "There are many amendments suggested by the members and on November 27, the meeting will take up clause by clause consideration and if required, there will be voice vote," Agrawal said.

"Another meeting will be convened before December 11... may be on December 6, 7 or 8, when the final draft of the Bill will be finalised," the JPC chairman said, adding, the committee has already sought six extensions and will not seek any more extension.

The JPC summoned several top officials, including Union Home Secretary Rajeev Garba, External Affairs Secretary Vijay Gokhale, Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice Dr G Narayan Raju and Secretary Legal Affairs Suresh Chandra, for consultations about the Bill. The meeting could not interact with them.

Meanwhile, sources describing the meeting as stormy, said that it reached a point when the opposition members threatened to stage a walkout. The two-hour-long meeting ended on an inconclusive note.

The meeting did not discuss the content of the Bill but the procedural matters and serious differences emerged between the BJP members and the opposition MPs. The BJP members who turned up in full strength pressed the chairman to recommend passing of the Bill today itself, and the meeting witnessed heated exchanges, a member said.

The first note of difference was on the issue of receipt of notice for amendments. Three out of four MPs belonging to the Congress, barring Sushmita Dev, did not receive the notice. The opposition members from BJD, Trinamool Congress, Janaka Dal (United), CPI(M) and others also complained that they have not received the notice.

After much deliberation, the chairman decided to give three days time to members to forward their amendments, sources said.

However, the BJP members kept on pressing the chairman to recommend passing of the Bill or at least start a discussion on the title of the Bill. This was also opposed by the opposition members who had by then united and stood their ground. The members pointed out that if an amendment is suggested on the title of the Bill itself, how will it be reconciled later.

Assam MP Bhubaneswar Kalita told the meeting that if any clause is passed today, Assam, which is already tense, will burn and then who will be responsible, sources said. The BJP, however, was unrelenting and wanted the Bill to be recommended for passing before the chairman worked out a broad schedule, sources added.

Several members of the JPC told that the BJP, which is in the majority in the JPC, is likely to finally have its way, though the opposition members have united. "It appears that BJP members were working on specific instructions," observed an MP.

Meanwhile, AGP leaders, including its president Atul Bora and State ministers Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhushan Choudhury, were present at the meeting venue and urged JPC members to oppose the Bill. The regional party is in a fix as their senior alliance partner BJP is bent on recommending passing of the Bill. The bill seeks to amend citizenship act to allow persecuted Hindus, Persis, Buddhists and Sikhs to be Indian citizen if they want.

Gautam Lahiri

Gautam Lahiri

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