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Mainstream, VOL LII No 12, March 15, 2014

On Dual Citizenship

Saturday 15 March 2014, by Eduardo Faleiro

The recent news that two MLAs of the Goa Legislative Assembly had registered their birth at the Civil Registration Office in Lisbon created a major controversy in this State. Goa was liberated from colonial rule on December 19, 1961. Subsequently, the Goa, Daman and Diu (Citizenship) Order, 1962 bestowed Indian citizenship on all Goans born before December 20, 1961 though any such person could within one month from the publication of the Order in the Official Gazette make a written declaration to the Administrator of Goa, Daman and Diu choosing to retain the citizenship which he held before that date.

On December 31, 1974 India and Portugal restored diplomatic relations and signed a Treaty to recognise India’s sovereignty over Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli. As per this Treaty, Portugal recognised with retrospective effect the sovereignty of India over the territories which had constituted the Portuguese “Estado da India” from the date of their integration into the Union of India. The Portuguese Nationality Law of 1975 provides that Goans, born before December 20, 1961 up to the third generation, are entitled to Portuguese citizenship, if they opt for it. This provision did not evoke much interest in Goa until 1986 when Portugal joined the European Union. Then, many Goans seeking employment abroad found that a Portuguese passport would provide them easy access to the more affluent European countries. Indeed, most Goans who seek a Portuguese passport do not intend to visit Portugal, do not speak Portuguese nor are interested in Portuguese culture or way of life.

Registration of birth of a Goan at the Civil Registry in Portugal is conclusive evidence that he has opted for Portuguese citizenship. Under Section 9 (2) of the Indian Citizenship Act, once an Indian acquires foreign citizenship, he ceases to be an Indian citizen.

In 1993, during the Narasimha RaoGovern-ment, the Ministry of External Affairs received a request from the Government of Portugal to open a Consulate in Goa. The only reason alleged by the Portuguese Government for this Consulate was that there were many Goans who sought a Portuguese passport and in the absence of a Consulate they had to travel to the Embassy of Portugal in New Delhi. At that time, foreign consulates were permitted only in the metropolitan cities. I was required to decide on this issue. However, since the matter concerned my own State of Goa, I referred it to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister advised me to permit the Portuguese Consulate and this Consulate came into existence in Goa in 1994.

About 150 countries permit dual citizenship in some form or the other. Prime Minister Narasimha Raoconsidered permission for dual citizenship in view of persistent demands, particularly from the diaspora in North America and some other countries. However, this proposal was ultimately dropped. Some of our neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, allow some kind of dual citizenship.

Pakistan permits dual citizenship to citizens from 13 Western countries as well as from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Pakistanis with dual nationality are forbidden to run for public office, contest elections or join the military. On September 20, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified 11 lawmakers, including Interior Minister Rahman Malik, for failing to disclose their dual nationality. Bangladesh permits dual citizenship to persons of Bangla-deshi origin who are citizens of the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and countries of the European Union. According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, “A person shall be disqualified for election, or for being a Member of Parliament if he acquires the citizenship of, or affirms or acknowledges allegiance to a foreign State.” Sri Lanka is the only Asian country that permits full dual citizenship. The persons with dual citizenship of Sri Lankan origin have the same rights as the other Sri Lankan citizens. However, this citizenship law is presently being reviewed by the Sri Lankan Parliament and applications for dual citizenship have been kept in abeyance since early 2011. The Parliament of Sri Lanka intends to formulate more stringent rules for dual citizenship.

A high level Committee on the Indian Diaspora was set up in 2000 under the chairmanship of Dr L. M. Singhvi to prepare a comprehensive Report on the Indian Diaspora and to recommend measures for a constructive relationship with it. The Report of the Committee was submitted to Prime Minister Vajpayee in January 2002. It recommended that dual citizenship should be permitted and that Sections 9, 10 and 12 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 should be suitably amended. The Report further recommended that persons of Indian origin, who are nationals of any of the 16 countries (including Portugal) mentioned in the Schedule, should be eligible for dual citizenship. The Report further recommended that those who acquire dual citizenship should not be entitled to exercise electoral franchise and should not be inducted into the civil services or the defence or paramilitary forces except by a special order of the Central Government. The Government of India accepted these recommen-dations. In December 23, 2003 Parliament enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and Rules giving effect to the Act were notified in March 2004.

The Government of India has formulated the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Scheme and the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Scheme for the benefit of persons of Indian origin who hold foreign nationality. The PIO card is issued to Indians who have been staying abroad for a couple of generations while the OCI card is granted to more recent emigrants. The validity of the PIO card is fifteen years whilst the OCI card is for life. There are some other benefits that the OCI enjoys which are not available to PIO card holders. In 2011, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced that the OCI and PIO cards would be merged. Thereafter, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced in Parliament the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2011 to merge the OCI and PIO cards and to create the “Overseas Indian Cardholder Scheme”. The Bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha and is now in the Lok Sabha. The Overseas Indian Cardholder will be granted a lifelong visa to India, exemption from registration at the FRO for any length of time of stay in India and parity with non-resident Indians in financial, economic and educational matters except those relating to acquisition of agricultural property.

A foreigner, the spouse of an Indian citizen, is also eligible for the PIO Card after two years of marriage to an Indian citizen. The moratorium has been provided to avoid misuse of this provision. The Intelligence Bureau found that some foreign nationals were getting married to Indian nationals and indulged in the narcotic trade. It also found that some foreign nationals married an Indian or a person of Indian origin merely to prolong their stay in India. After getting married and acquiring a PIO card there was no scrutiny to find out whether they were staying with the Indian national. It was observed that some such foreigners do not inform about their separation and continue to enjoy the privileges provided under this category of visa.

Last month, I met the Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, and mentioned to him the problems faced by some Goans in the matter of citizenship. He promised to discuss this subject with the Home Minister and find a solution. I also met the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ramachandran Mullappally, who is in charge of the Foreigners Division in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Minister, Mullappally, held a public meeting-cum-interactive session in Kerala on the January 30 on questions relating to citizenship, PIO, OCI, extension of visas and related matters. There are several persons in Kerala who had acquired Pakistani citizenship in order to work in Pakistan and are now facing problems like those faced by some Goans who acquired Portuguese nationality. I requested the Minister to hold a similar meeting-cum-interactive session in Goa and he agreed to do so.

The author, a prominent leader of the Congress in Goa, is a former Union Minister for External Affairs.