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National Asylum Policy

Introduction of Private Member’s Bill by Dr. Shashi Tharoor

India as a country has been facing a periodic influx of refugees since time immemorial. The refugees, more often than not, are from the nooks and corners of the neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc. The term ‘refugee’ is of french origin meaning – ‘gone in search of refuge’

There are ‘n’ number of factors which are at play when it comes to the entry of people from one country to another and it often varies depending upon the groups leaving their home country. People crossing the border of a country could be immigrants and/or refugees. Before delving deep into the debates regarding the immigrants and refugees, one has to know the difference between these two terms. Refugees are the ones who are forced out of their own country due to persecution, war or violence etc. ; whereas immigrants are the ones who move out of their country out of their own will.

Though India is an epitome of unity in diversity until 2019 it lacked concrete legislations with respect to the problem of refugees. The country is not a signatory to the United Nation’s Refugee Convention, 1951 and nor does it have internal legislations to govern the refugees. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an eminent politician, writer and member of parliament introduced the private member’s bill known as National Asylum Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha. This bill was an effort to give a direction to the matters of refugees in the country however, the bill did not receive a heads up regarding the discussions to be carried out to formulate a National Asylum Policy.

National Asylum Policy

The bill was introduced to systematize the dealings with refugees. It covered a vast range of provisions regarding – (i) Definitions of the term ‘refugee’, ‘asylum’, ‘asylum seeker’ etc. (ii) Principles of Refugee status consisting of criteria for recognition as a refugee ; criteria for exclusion etc. For instance, a person qualifies as a refugee if such person has fled the home country because of some kind of fear of persecution due to race, religion, sex etc. and has a threat to life and integrity. On the other hand, persons who have committed any kind of crime that harms peace, humanity and integrity of the nation, shall be excluded from the protection given under the bill. (iii) It lays down the provisions for the establishment of commissions for asylum, appellate boards etc. along with their rights, duties and powers. (iv) Apart from this, it laid down the rights and duties of asylum seekers also along with provisions regarding mass influx and audits and reports to be prepared.

The private member’s bill to develop national asylum policy did not receive the attention that it sought but interestingly, another bill, introduced in the 17th Lok sabha by the minister of home affairs, Amit Shah, was passed in both Lok Sabha and Rajya sabha. It caused a wide range of protests in the country especially in the states of Assam and Tripura. The bill provides provisions for Indian citizenship to illegal migrants who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The exclusion of the Muslim community from this bill attracted criticism from the opposition as well as the citizens, calling it against the constitution of India (focussing on article 14). The bill has turned into an act today is creating quite a stir in the country

What is ‘Private Member’s Bill’

The concept of private member’s bill prevails in various countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. India is also one such country. Private Member’s bills are bills introduced by member of parliament. It can be introduced in either of the houses. The bill can deal with any issue prevailing in the country. A member of parliament is not a member of the government. Therefore, bills introduced by ministers are called government bills. The private member’s bills, therefore, are important as they try to bring out the issues that may be ignored by the ministers of the government. Intentionally or unintentionally. This helps to put forward a healthy debate in a parliament.

Problems faced by Private member’s Bill

It is a fact that only around 14 PMBs (private member’s bills) have become ‘law’ in India. The hurdles in the path of PMBs are quite a few. The process required for its introduction is elaborate and time-consuming consisting of prior notice of one month, a ballet system to decide the order of introduction etc. Apart from the procedural complexities, the major problem that it faces is the ministers. At the end of the day, it is upon the ministers in power to decide whether to go ahead with a PMB or not. Hence, the government must keep aside the biases and prejudices and treat PMBs in a neutral manner.

Conclusion

India being a democratic country has a government which is of the people, for the people and by the people. Hence, the government enjoying power in the parliament is accountable to the people of the country. The bills passed, debates and discussions held are for the people of this country. A private member’s bill helps bring out important issues as well. A bill, ultimately, is a plan of action that has to be adopted when it comes to a prevailing problem in the country. A PMB is no different. The more such plan of actions suggested, the better. In India, the word refugees is defined under the term ‘alien’ in the article 23 of the constitution along with other statutes such as Foreigner’s Act,1946 and Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 etc. As a result, there is no concrete definition of the term ‘refugees’ and no legal framework governing the refugee people as such.

-Aditi Mishra, Member, IDIA Pune Chapter

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