Citizenship Ordinance, 2021: A Matter of Political Will?

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On March 8 2022,  Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand took an initiative to forge a consensus  on the bill relating to the amendment of Nepal Citizenship Act, 2006 . On the occasion, Home Minister Khand stated that the government has been taking initiative to enact the amendment.

Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand. Photo: RSS

On 23rd May 2021, President Bidya Bhandari issued Nepali Citizenship (first amendment)  ordinance, 2021 to amend the Nepali Citizenship Act 2006.  The bill has been pending in parliament for two years. The main point of contention between  the political parties is whether to keep the time limit in granting naturalised citizenship to foreign-born women, married to Nepali men. The proposal issued by State Management and Good Governance Committee suggested that the temporary identity card be issued immediately after solemnisation of the marriage except for political rights and naturalised citizenship which is to be granted only after seven years. However, the Congress and Janta SamajBadi Party (JSP) has dissented from this view. These parties have expressed the stand that a foreign woman who marries a Nepali man should apply for citizenship immediately without a waiting period of seven years. Furthermore, provision of getting naturalised citizenship should be included in the application of the foreign women.  Even now, the Congress is in favor of moving the bill forward with the same provision.  During the meeting, Dev Gurung, chief whip of the UCPN (Maoist) parliamentary party, had said that there should be a limit on acquiring  citizenship on the basis of the report submitted by the committee. He was of the view that open borders with India and the issue of  nationality are sensitive as they are linked with issue of citizenship.

It appears that there exists different points-of-view amongst the political parties regarding the bill that is designed to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act 2006. It may be argued that, in the absence of consensus between the political parties, political intervention may create more problems and differences than finding a solution. However, there were voices inside the ruling alliance that opines that bill must be passed to guarantee citizenship rights to all those eligible.

However, political analyst, Tulanarayan Sah  and Surendra Labh, are sceptical as to the discussion being initiated with the intention of passing the bill in parliament. Critics suspects that the government is using this issue for political maneuvering in the run-up to the local level election schedule to be held in the month of May 2022.

On 20 September, 2021, the House of Representative (HoR) endorsed the national budget amidst constant obstruction from the lawmakers in the opposition. Since then HoR has not endorsed a single bill until the day of ratification of 500 million-dollar American Grant known was Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). After much deflection, the government has planned to end the parliament session by endorsing important bills along with the citizenship bill.

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