President Bidya Devi Bhandari has been sitting on the Citizenship Bill resent by the House for authentication for four days and holding consultation with political parties about the bill instead.
Hundreds of thousands of youths eligible for citizenship as per the Constitution but denied one in lack of the citizenship law are worried due to her indecision on the issue.
President Bhandari on August 14 had sent back the bill sent to her for authentication after being passed by both the HoR and the National Assembly to the HoR for reconsideration as per Article 113(3) of the Constitution.
"Except in the case of a Finance Bill, if the President is satisfied that reconsideration is necessary on a bill, the Bill may be sent back to the House where it originated with necessary information within 15 days of receiving the Bill," 113(3) of the Constitution says about exception to mandatory provision.
The president is constitutionally required to authenticate any bill that is resubmitted by the House after sending it back to the House for reconsideration once.
She has been asking leaders why the bill has been resent to her without any changes even after she sent it back for reconsideration in the first instance. Press Advisor to the president Tika Dhakal confirmed with Setopati that she repeated the question even to Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) Chairman Upendra Yadav, who is part of the ruling coalition and has a stake in the bill as most of over 600,000 youths who are denied citizenship in lack of relevant law are in Madhes.
But constitutional and legal experts have pointed that she does not have constitutional rights to question the bill or hold deliberation on it.
Senior advocate and former National Assembly member from Nepali Congress (NC) Radheshyam Adhikari has stressed that she had constitutional rights to send the bill back for reconsideration within 15 days in the first instance but she does not have any alternative to passing the bill as per Article 113(4) of the Constitution now.
“It is the matter of the parliament’s prerogative to reconsider it or not,” he has added.
He has stated that she should now sign on the bill without any excuse within 15 days. “If she doesn’t do that, that would be deemed as her crossing constitutional limits. She, therefore, does not have any space to dally now,” he has pointed. “President may have felt insulted or that it may be a matter of ego in her heart. But that can be felt as an individual. That does not have any constitutional meaning.”
Constitutional expert Purna Man Shakya concurs and accuses President Bhandari of over-activism on the issue. "President cannot challenge the conscience of the House. The ruling parties, the Cabinet and the parliament should take all responsibilities about the bill because it is the parties and the leaders who will go to the people. And they will take responsibility. President should not take responsibility,” Shakya has stated. “She should not have displayed over-activism.”
He has pointed that only the Supreme Court (SC) can examine whether any law is constitutional or not and added that he does not understand why she is taking a stand on the issue.
Political parties have also started to criticize President Bhandari due to the delay after the bill was resent for authentication. CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal warned in Pokhara on Friday that she may have to resign if the bill were not authenticated.
“The Constitution has not given any space (to reject) for the second time. I, therefore, feel that the president will eventually authenticate it,” Dahal has said. “But I had seen a chance of the president making this issue a big political matter when I met her a few days back. The issue will go to the court if that happens and it will move forward after the court’s verdict. She may have to resign after that.”
The president’s Press Advisor Dhakal told Setopati that she will take decision in accordance to rule and system. “Leaders of ruling parties seem to have taken sending back of the bill by her for reconsideration as a matter of ego. The bill has arrived for the second time for authentication. The president will take decision in accordance to rule and system.”
Speaker Agni Sapkota had resent the Citizenship Bill, sent back by President Bhandari for reconsideration, for authentication Monday.
President Bhandari on August 14 had sent back the Citizenship Bill sent to her for authentication after being passed by both the HoR and the National Assembly. She had sent a seven-point message to inform the federal parliament and for deliberation, and another eight-point message for drawing attention.
President Bhandari had mainly raised two issues while sending the bill back. She had mentioned that the bill is silent about the provision of naturalized citizenship through marriage as per Article 11(6) of the Constitution.
"If a foreign woman married to a Nepali citizen so wishes, she may acquire naturalized citizenship of Nepal as provided for in a Federal law," states Article 11(6) of the Constitution. President Bhandari has pointed that the Constitution clearly says federal law but the bill passed by the federal parliament does not have that provision.
She also raised question about the provision requiring self-declaration by a woman to provide citizenship to her children.
She had also drawn the House's attention to other issues but has mainly asked the House to reconsider the two issues, according to the source.
The bill does not propose any restrictions on foreigners marrying Nepali citizens while acquiring naturalized citizenship. The main opposition CPN-UML, to which Bhandari was affiliated before becoming president, has been protesting removal of the provision in the report submitted by the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the HoR that required foreigners marrying Nepali citizens to wait for seven years to get naturalized citizenship.
The bill passed by the federal parliament also has a provision to grant citizenship by descent to the children of those who received citizenship by birth through a one-time arrangement after the Janaandolan II in 2006.
Citizenship by birth was granted to persons born in Nepal before mid-April 1990, and having permanent domicile and been continuously resident in Nepal throughout their life through the one-time arrangement.
The passed bill also allows citizenship to a person only through the name of mother but has put four conditions for that. The child should be born in Nepal, should be residing in Nepal, father should be unidentified and the person should make self-declaration that the father has not been identified for that.
The person taking the citizenship certificate can choose to take the surname and address of either the father or mother. The bill has also paved the way for non-resident citizenship to anyone living outside the SAARC countries if there is proof that the person's father/mother or grandfather/grandmother is/was a Nepali citizen.
President Bhandari earlier had authenticated an ordinance, sent by the then prime minister KP Sharma Oli after dissolving the House, that included similar provisions.