“The government wants to gift them freedom from harassment and persecution. That’s why the deadline is fixed before August 15,” a Home Ministry official said.

NEW DELHI : The government plans to bring cheers to hundreds of refugees, mostly Hindus, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on the Independence Day by granting them citizenship, PAN and Aadhaar cards and help them open bank accounts like any other Indian citizen.

“The government wants to gift them freedom from harassment and persecution. That’s why the deadline is fixed before August 15,” a Home Ministry official said, pointing out a Bill to amend the Citizenship Act for the purpose would be moved in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament to fulfill the promise made to them by the BJP in its 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto.

“We have made several changes in the proposed bill to ensure the persecuted refugees get Indian citizenship without any difficulty. The government wants to complete the process before Independence Day,” said the official attached to the foreigners’ division.

The ministry had earlier this month asked several states, including Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, to set up camps in districts from July to look into the problems of refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan and help them get temporary dwellings and employment.

 The ministry officials will also visit the camps and help them sort out their day-to-day problems.

Sources said a provision in the proposed Bill would change the definition of “illegal migrants” and amend the provision that allows the foreigners to apply for citizenship after staying in the country for seven years without a break.

They said the new provisions in the Bill would help the refugee Hindus to get Indian citizenship without any hassle. A renunciation certificate from the home country, which was earlier mandatory to get citizenship, will no longer be required.

Last September, the home ministry had issued orders allowing Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Pakistan and Bangladesh, who are now in India, to stay in the country indefinitely without worrying about passports or visas. The order had paved the way for beneficiary refugees to become Indian citizens. According to data available with the Union home ministry, there are over 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. West Bengal and Assam host most of the Bangladeshi immigrants. An exact count is not available but over two lakh Hindu refugees are estimated to be living in India.

Orders passed by the ministry last month empower the district magistrates and superintendents of police to directly examine the refugees’’ applications. Applicants will not have to contact the home ministry.

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