The Constituent Assembly took more than two years to arrive at a final decision with respect to the provisions dealing with citizenship. This was mainly due to some special problems created by the Partition of India as well as the presence of a large number of Indians abroad. Between 1947 and 1949, millions of people had crossed and recrossed the frontiers that now separate India from Pakistan in order to make the final choice of their nationality. While Hindus and Sikhs, who were born and domiciled in that part of India, which became Pakistan and who migrated to India, had to be given the citizenship of new India, there were Muslims, who left India to become citizens of Pakistan and who had to be excluded. The Constitution had to cover all these cases. The provisions, as finally passed, are covered by Articles 5 to 11 which have been embodied in Part II of the Constitution.
Article 5 refers to citizenship not in any general sense, but to citizenship on the date of the commencement of the Constitution. It is not the object of this Article to lay down a permanent law of citizenship for the country. That business is left to the Parliament of India. Accordingly, at the commencement of the Constitution every person who had his domicile in the territory of India and (a) who was born in India, or (b) either of whose parents was born in India, or (c) who had been ordinarily resident in India for not less than five years immediately preceding the commencement of the Constitution, was given the free choice of becoming an Indian citizen under the above provisions, if he so desired. The only condition that he had to fulfil in this connection was to get himself registered as an Indian citizen by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where he was residing (Article 8).
Articles 6 and 7 deal with two categories of persons, namely, those who were residents in Pakistan but had migrated to India and those who were residents in India but had migrated to Pakistan.
It is clear from the nature of these provisions that the object was not to place before the Constituent Assembly anything like a code of nationality laws. In fact, there is hardly any constitution in which an attempt has been made to embody a detailed nationality law. But since India’s Constitution is of a republican character and provision is made throughout the Constitution for election to various offices under the State, by and from among the citizens, it was thought essential to have some provisions which precisely determined who was an Indian citizen at the commencement of the Constitution. Otherwise, there could have arisen difficulties in connection with the holding of particular offices and even with the starting of representative institutions in the country under the Republican Constitution.
That is why Parliament has been given plenary powers to deal with the questions of nationality and enact any law in this connection that it deems suited to the conditions of the country. Such parliamentary power embraces not only the question of acquisition of citizenship but also its termination as well as any other matter relating to citizenship (Article 11). Also under Article 9 of the Constitution, any person who voluntarily acquires the citizenship of any foreign State, even if he/she is qualified for Indian citizenship under the provision of the Constitution, may not continue to be a citizen of India.
Citizenship Act, 1955
A comprehensive law dealing with citizenship was passed by Parliament in 1955 in accordance with the powers vested in it by Article 11 of the Constitution. The provisions of the Act may be broadly divided into three parts, acquisition of citizenship, termination of citizenship and supplementary provisions. The Act provides five modes of acquiring the citizenship of India. These are :-
1. By Birth : Every person born in India, on or after January 26, 1950, shall be a citizen of India by birth. There are two exceptions, however, to this rule, namely, children born to foreign diplomatic personnel in India and
those of enemy aliens whose birth occurs in a place then under occupation of the enemy.
2. By Descent : A person born outside India, on or after January 26, 1950, shall be a citizen of India by descent if his father is a citizen of India at the time of his birth. Children of those who are citizens of India by descent, and the children of non-citizens who are in service under the Government of India, may also take advantage of this provision and become Indian citizens by descent, if they so desire, through registration.
3. By Registration : Any person who is not already an Indian citizen by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, or those of this Act can acquire citizenship by registration if that person belongs to any one of the following five categories :
(a) persons of Indian origin, who are ordinarily residents of India and who have been so for at least six months immediately before making an application for registration;
(b) persons of Indian origin, who are ordinarily residents of any country or any place outside the undivided India;
(c) women who are, or have been, married to citizens of India;
(d) minor children of persons who are citizens of India; and
(e) persons of full age and capacity who are the citizens of the Commonwealth countries or the Republic of Ireland.
4. By Naturalisation : Any person, who does not come under any of the categories mentioned above, can acquire Indian citizenship by naturalisation if his application for the same has been acceded to by the Government of India and a certificate is granted to him to that effect. An applicant for a naturalisation certificate has to satisfy the following conditions :
(a) He is not a citizen of a country which prohibits Indians becoming citizens of that country by naturalisation.
(b) He has renounced the citizenship of the country to which he belonged.
(c) He has either resided in India or has been in service of the Government of India, normally for one year immediately prior to the date of application.
(d) During the seven years preceding the above-mentioned one year, he has resided in India or has been in service of the Government in India for a period amounting in the aggregate to not less than four years.
(e) He is of good character.
(f) He has an adequate knowledge of a language specified in the Constitution.
(g) If granted a certificate, he intends to reside in India or enter into or continue in service under Government in India.
The Act, however, provides for a conspicuous exemption under which any or all of the above conditions may be waived in favour of persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature, world peace or human progress.
Every person to whom a certificate of naturalisation is granted has to take an oath of allegiance, solemnly affirming that he will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and that he will faithfully observe the laws of India and fulfil his duties as a citizen of India.
5. By Incorporation of Territories : If any territory becomes a part of India, the Government of India, by order, may specify those persons who shall be citizens of India by reason of their connection with that territory.
Loss of Citizenship
The Act envisages three situations under which a citizen of India may lose his Indian nationality. These are :
1. By Renunciation : If any citizen of India, who is also a national of another country, renounces his Indian citizenship through a declaration in the prescribed manner, he ceases to be an Indian citizen on registration of such declaration. When a male person ceases to be a citizen of India, every minor child of his also ceases to be a citizen of India. However, such a child may within one year after attaining full age, become an Indian citizen by making a declaration of his intention to resume Indian citizenship.
2. By Termination : Any person who acquired the Indian citizenship by naturalisation, registration or otherwise, if he or she has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country at any time between January 26, 1950, the date of commencement of the Constitution, and December 30, 1955, the date of commencement of this Act, will cease to be a citizen of India from the date of such acquisition.
3. By Deprivation : The Central Government is empowered to deprive a citizen of his citizenship by issuing an order under Section 10 of the Act. But this power of the Government may not be used in case of every citizen; it applies only to those who have acquired Indian citizenship by naturalisation or by virtue of Clause (c) of Article 5 of the Constitution or by registration. The possible grounds of such deprivation are : the obtaining of a citizenship certificate by means of fraud, false representation, concealment of any material fact, disloyalty or disaffection towards the Constitution shown by an act or speech; assisting an enemy with whom India is at war; sentence to imprisonment in any country for a term of not less than two years within the first five years after the acquisition of Indian citizenship and continuously residing outside India for a period of seven years without expressing in a prescribed manner his intention to retain his Indian citizenship. The Act also provides for reasonable safeguards in order to see that a proper procedure is followed in every case of deprivation of citizenship.
The most important aspect of the constitutional provisions dealing with citizenship is that it has established a uniform or single system of citizenship law for the whole country. A citizen of India is legally acceptable as a citizen in every part of the territory of India with almost all the benefits and privileges that attend such a status. This is in striking contrast to the system of double citizenship that prevails in some federal States. Before the inauguration of the Constitution, there were two broad divisions among Indian citizens, British Indian subjects and State subjects. Since there were more than 500 Indian States, the State subjects themselves were further subdivided into as many groups of citizens as were the States.
Thus, the term “Indian citizenship” had little precise legal significance except that the Indian people as a whole came
under the overall jurisdiction of the British Government that ruled India. The abolition of such distinctions makes the essential unity of the nation a reality. A single citizenship for the entire country removes much of the artificial State barriers that prevailed in pre-Independence days and facilitates the freedom of trade and commerce throughout the territory of India.