Timeline of Events: Citizenship Amendment Act 1939-1971 (Part 1)

As the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Act,2019 (CAA) and (National Register of Citizens) NRC is gripping the nation, we decided to dig a bit deeper into the history of citizenship laws in India to get a complete understanding of the issue at hand. We have divided this timeline into two parts to facilitate understanding. The current article would cover the timeline until 1971.

1939: Registration of Foreigner’s Act 1939 and Registration of Foreigner’s Rule 1939.

The said act provided for registration of foreigners, entering, being present and departing from British India, and extended to the whole of India.

  • The Act further gave rulemaking power to Central Government for requiring any foreigner entering India to report arrival, presence, movement, date of intended departure to the prescribed authority.

  • The Act imposed the burden of proving that he/she is not a foreigner on the person on whom such a question arises.

  • Section 5 gave the Central Government the power to exempt the application of the Act to a particular foreigner or class or description of a foreigner.


1946: Foreigner’s Act,1946

This Act was enacted to confer the Central Government with certain powers with respect to foreigners. The said Act also extended to the whole of India. The Act conferred order-making power on the Central Government prohibiting, regulating, restricting the entry or departure from India, presence or continued presence in India. Further, the Central Government was given the power to make such orders generally applicable or to particular foreigner or prescribed class or description of a foreigner. The order-making power, was to extend to, amongst other powers-

  • Restrict entry, time of entry, route of entry

  • Restrict departure, time, place, route of departure

  • Prohibition against remaining in India or prescribed area in India

  • Impose restrictions on movement, prescribe residence in a particular place

  • Prescribe furnishing of proof of identity to authority.

  • Prescribe photograph and finger impressions to be taken

  • Prohibition of association with a person of a prescribed or specified description

  • Prescribe entering into a bond with securities

  • Order arrest, detention, and confinement

Section 8 of the Act deals with Determination of Nationality and states that when a foreigner is recognized as a national by the law of more than one foreign country or where for any reason it is uncertain what nationality if any is to be attributed to a foreigner, that foreigner may be treated as the national of the country with which he appears to the prescribed authority to be most closely connected for the time being in interest or sympathy or if he is of uncertain nationality, of the country with which he was last so connected.

The Act further provides that where a foreigner acquired a nationality by birth, he shall, except where the Central Government so directs either generally or in a particular case, be deemed to retain that nationality unless he proves to the satisfaction of the said authority that he has subsequently acquired by naturalization or otherwise some other nationality and still recognized as entitled to protection by the Government of the country whose nationality he has so acquired.

In other words, the Act provides that authority, while determining the nationality of a person, in normal circumstances, would interpret that a person is a national of the state in which he was born, except in the following circumstances-

  • When the person is able to prove to the Authority that he/she has on a later date acquired the nationality of the country; or

  • Any other general or particular direction by Central Government.

The Act further mandates decision as to nationality given under this act shall be final and shall not be called in question in any Court.

This was to be in addition to the Registration of Foreigner’s Act and not in derogation of the same.


1950: Constitution of India

Part II of the Constitution of India elaborates on the provision of the Constitution of India, regarding citizenship.

Article 5 of the Constitution deals with citizenship at the commencement of the Constitution, it states that every person who has his domicile in the territory of India shall be a citizen of India if either he/she is -

  • Born in the territory of India, or

  • whose parents were born in the territory of India; or

  • has been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than 5 years immediately preceding such commencement;

Part II also provides provisions for rights of citizenship to certain people who have migrated to India from Pakistan.

Article 11 of the Constitution, entrusts the parliament with the power to make any provision with respect to acquisition and termination of citizenship and or other matters relating to citizenship.

Article 13 of the Constitution of India falls under Part III of the Constitution of India, which deals with Fundamental Rights. The said Article,interalia, states that the State, shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the Fundamental Right, and if any such law is passed, the same would be void.

1st March 1950: Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950

The act authorized the Central Government to expel certain immigrants if the Central government is of opinion that any person or class of person who has been ordinarily resident in place outside India, whose stay Central Government in its opinion considers being detrimental to the interest of the general public of India or any scheduled tribe. The Central Government may by order-

  • Direct such person or class of persons to remove himself or themselves from India or Assam within such time and by such route as may be specified in the order; and

  • Give such further directions in regard to his or their removal from India or Assam as it may consider necessary or expedient:

The Act further stated that the provisions would not be applicable to a person who have owing to the civil disturbance in Pakistan have been displaced and subsequently residing in Assam.


April 1950: Nehru-Liaquat Agreement

  • Nehru-Liaquat Agreement entered into between India and Pakistan regarding rights and securities of minorities.

  • By way of the Agreement, both countries emphasized that minorities of the countries owed allegiance to their respective countries and should seek grievance redressal in their respective countries.

  • The Agreement further sought to identify the rights of minorities in East Bengal, West Bengal, Tripura and Assam which at that time was under the impact of communal disturbances.

  • The Agreement further laid down certain steps and measures to ensure the restoration of normal conditions.

  • The Agreement further provides for the establishment of minority commissions.


25th April 1950: Passport (Entry to India) Rules, 1950

The said rules were framed by the Central Government by virtue of the power vested in it by Section 3 of the Passport(Entry to India) Act, 1920.

Rule 3 of the said Rules provide that- No person proceeding from any place outside India shall enter, or attempt to enter, India by water, land or air-

(a) unless he is in possession of a valid passport conforming to the conditions prescribed in rule 5, and

(b) except through such port (including an airport) or other places as may be specified in this behalf by Central Government.

Rule 4 provides for an exception to the application of Rule 3, for a certain category including-

  • Member of Naval, Military or Air Forces of India, entering India on duty, and members of the family of any such person when accompanying such person to India on a Government transport;

  • A person domiciled in India entering India by land or by air over the Nepalese or Bhutanese frontier;

  • Nepalese and Bhutanese entering India by land or by air over the Nepalese or Bhutanese frontier;

  • bona fide Mohammedan pilgrims domiciled in India returning from Jeddah or Basra;

1951: First National Register of Citizen in Assam

The First National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in Assam subsequent to the census which was conducted in 1951.

1955: The Citizenship Act

The Citizenship Act was enacted in 1955 to provide “acquisition” and “determination” to Indian citizenship. It specified the modes in which citizenship of India could be acquired, including-

  • Citizenship by Birth (Section 3)

  • Citizenship by Descent (Section 4)

  • Citizenship by Registration (Section 5)

  • Citizenship by Naturalization (Section 6)

  • Citizenship by Incorporation of a Territory (Section 7)

(More on this in subsequent articles)


1964: Foreigner’s Tribunals Order, 1964

The said order was made as per the powers conferred by the Foreigner’s Act 1946. The Order provided as follows-

  • The Central Government may by an order refer the question as to whether a person is not a Foreigner within the meaning of Foreigner’s Act to a tribunal for its opinion

Procedure for disposal of questions-

  • Tribunal shall serve a copy of the alleged grounds to the person who is alleged to be a foreigner

  • The person should be given a reasonable opportunity to make representation and produce evidence in support of their case

  • Tribunal to submit opinion after considering evidence


1971: Formation of Bangladesh

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