Citizenship Amendment Bill

Authentication Diverges Opinions


President Ramchandra Paudel authenticated the Citizenship Amendment Bill last week, dividing opinions among political parties, supporters, and stakeholders. The ruling coalition’s effort to offer citizenship to the needy by ratifying the pending bill has been hampered after the Supreme Court, acting on a writ petition, issued a temporary injunction against the authentication, instructing the government not to execute the law. President Paudel endorsed the bill after deliberations with experts, only to see the Supreme Court issue a temporary interim ruling against it. The opposition parties rejected his ratification while the CPN-UML disrupted parliamentary proceedings on Sunday and demanded that the bill be made inactive and that the approval and ratification process be resumed immediately in parliament.

Complicated issue

The latest incidents suggest that the citizenship has always been a complicated issue. Before President Paudel ratified the contentious bill, it had gathered dust for eight long years since the promulgation of the current constitution in 2015. Critics, including legal experts, said that the incumbent president acted ‘unlawfully’ by ratifying a bill that had been adopted by the previous parliament but remained dormant after the former president did not approve it. They emphasised the need for reprocessing the bill in parliament rather than having the president to ratify it.

To look back, the ‘contentious’ Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in parliament in June 2018 by the then KP Sharma Oli administration, but the parties were unable to achieve an agreement on the disputed provisions. Following the collapse of the Oli government, the new coalition government, led by the Nepali Congress, reintroduced the bill in parliament and obtained its endorsement by a majority vote in July 2022. The bill was then sent to former President Bidya Devi Bhandari for her authentication. However, in August of the same year, Bhandari returned the bill to the government for review, along with her suggestions. Following that, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government resubmitted it to President Bhandari in September 2022 after the then-House did not make any changes, but she ignored it once more. 

This reluctance to offer her permission to the law, after receiving it twice from the government, was interpreted as a breach of constitutional obligations by a titular president. Meanwhile, opponents linked the bill approval, which coincided with Prime Minister Prachanda's official visit to India, to the visit itself. UML general secretary Shankar Pokharel and other opposition members questioned the timing of the bill’s endorsement raising question over PM’s visit to India. Many Nepalis are aware that India opposed the existing constitution, especially because of its citizenship provisions that it viewed as discriminatory towards the Madhesi people, a problem that the bill's ratification was thought to have addressed.

Furthermore, the main opposition party has voiced worries about the government's reluctance to address the issues identified by former President Bhandari. The Citizenship Amendment Bill contains controversial measures against which opposition parties have protested. One especially problematic issue is the rule allowing the immediate granting of citizenship to foreign women who marry Nepali males. Bhandari stressed this point in her report to Parliament, urging a review of the provision. Opposition parties, such as the UML, advocated for a seven-year waiting period before awarding citizenship to foreign women who marry Nepali males.

Another concern shown by the dissatisfied group is the acknowledgement of descendants. Opposition parties criticised the section, saying that persons can gain citizenship based on ancestry or descent if their parents obtained Nepali citizenship before the adoption of the present constitution in 2015. The bill, which allows citizenship to be granted to children born in Nepal from a Nepali mother residing in Nepal but without identifying the father, has raised concerns about potential harm to women's self-esteem due to the requirements for establishing the absence or non-disclosure of the father. 

Regulations awarding citizenship based on descent to offspring of Nepali fathers and foreign mothers have been criticised, whereas naturalised citizenship is only provided to children if the father is a foreigner and the mother is Nepali. These laws have been deemed discriminatory since they do not provide equal rights to foreign males who marry Nepali women and seek Nepali citizenship.

Many people who have long sought citizenship have hailed the ratification, underscoring the comfort it would offer. The clause granting citizenship to non-resident Nepalis, albeit without political and administrative powers, has alleviated worries for many NRNs and the Nepali diaspora who seek dual citizenship and intend to engage in or manage enterprises in Nepal. Supporters claim that the ratification corrects the situation in which children born to Nepali nationals, including foreign spouses, were denied citizenship. They saw the President's actions as a start towards fixing this issue since many genuine Nepalis have difficulty obtaining government-guaranteed services owing to a lack of citizenship.


Meanwhile, the bill's passage has drawn our attention to the role of our presidents. Some claim that Nepal's titular presidents must uphold the privileges granted to them by our constitution and cannot violate them. Article 113(4) of the constitution requires the President to validate the bill to enact it into law when the Parliament sends it for the second time within 15 days of its submission. For many, President Paudel has fulfilled his constitutional obligations by giving his consent to a law that has already been endorsed twice by the parliament. Meanwhile, former president Bhandari’s move has been considered a violation of her constitutional duties as she overlooked to authenticate the bill into law though it had been sent to her twice by the then parliament.

Returning to the bill, the Supreme Court, following its order against implementation, may ask the government to reprocess it through the current parliament. If that happens, the bill would encounter challenges in gaining ratification in its current form, as opponents will seek to strike out several 'contentious' parts. Since the incumbent Speaker is a former UML lawmaker, he may also play his part. In such a case, the ruling parties would use mathematics to secure enough majority support in the House and then submit the bill to the President, who would almost certainly ratify it again.

(Upadhyay is a former managing editor of this daily.)

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