There it is

The House of Representatives has taken a radical step towards resolving the citizenship issue by passing a new Citizenship Act, 2006, on Sunday, for the first time recognising the right of individuals to obtain citizenship on the basis of birth, as well as through maternity — a provision almost unthinkable in Nepal before. Earlier, a person would be eligible for citizenship only by descent through the establishment of his or her Nepali paternity. The new law is in consonance with Parliament’s Declaration after its restoration seven months ago, a fact that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 21 takes full note of. The law aims at providing citizenship papers to hundreds of thousands of people, particularly those living in the Terai, whose numbers, yet to be ascertained, vary depending on the political leaders who have raised the issue, sometimes the same person claiming different numbers on different occasions. According to Subas Nembang, the Speaker of the House, marginalised people would benefit too, receiving citizenship certificates at their doorsteps.

The passage of the bill was not, however, unanimous, with a junior partner in the seven-party alliance, the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party of Narayan Man Bijucche, voting against it, terming the law a “capitalist document” which, if passed without an amendment, would “help foreigners acquire citizenship papers”. However, home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula gave the assurance that the government would introduce “appropriate” regulations relating to the law soon. Various groups have criticised the law, including some women’s rights groups who demanded more, particularly the right to Nepali citizenship of Nepali women married to foreigners. But the most serious charge against the provisions of the new law has been that it would considerably increase the proportion of foreigners in the population composition of the country, as the cut-off date for eligibility for citizenship is too recent, i.e. April 17,1990.

In a country in Nepal’s geopolitical location between the world’s two most populous Asian giants, with an open border with the latter, it is not unnatural that the citizenship issue becomes a sensitive public issue. This is due to the wide disproportion in size between the population of Nepal and that of its immediate neighbours. But the bill was passed near-unanimously in Parliament — even the CPN-UML which had made a case for pushing back the cut-off date by a decade failed to stay put in its stand. Now that the law has become an accomplished fact, it would no longer be a fruitful exercise to spend much time over support to or criticism of its provisions. The emphasis should now fall on its faithful implementation, taking care within the law, as well as regulations to be put in place, that foreigners do not succeed in getting citizenship. At the same time, the fallout of the implementation needs to be closely monitored for corrective action if it found that the new Act is going to materially affect Nepal’s national interests.