New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday passed a Bill to amend the Citizenship Act to remove disparity between Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2015 was one of the six bills on which ordinances had been promulgated by the NDA government.
The measure, passed by Lok Sabha two days ago, was adopted in the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote.
Replying to the debate, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said the ordinance was necessisated to honour Prime Minister Narendra Modi's committment in the US and Australia to merge PIO and OCI cards before January 9, the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's return to India from South Africa.
He said the only objection to the Bill was with regard to promulgation of ordinance which was "an issue of sentiment."
"January 9, 2015 marked the completion 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi's return to India. The Prime Minister had made an announcement in US and Australia to merge OCI and PIO cards before January 9 and, to fulfill this committment, the ordinance was brought," the Minister said.
He said now the benefits under the PIO scheme would be extended to OCI cardholders with recognition granted to their great grand children which was earlier limited to grand children.
On concerns over discrimination or harrassment of the cardholders at the hands of immigration and police authorities at airports, Rijiju said, "Let me assure that the entire procedure of acquisition of card is smooth." The government would ensure that no such things happen, he added.
He said people who apply for Indian citizenship would now be allowed a 30-day break if they have to leave India for some time and their absence from the country would not affect their application for citizenship.
Earlier, Derek O Brien (Trinamool) raised questions about the haste shown by the government to bring in the ordinance and said, "What was the hurry to bring the ordinance? ... Please don't bulldoze your way."
He quoted the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha as saying that ordinances should be used only in extreme and urgent circumstances or else Parliament will be reduced to a "rubberstamp." He also made it clear that "we have no issue with the Bill" but were concerned about the "misuse" of the ordinance route.
Bhupinder Singh (BJD) echoed O'Brien saying the entire House was unanimous that there was no need for an ordinance and government should explain the urgency behind it.