KATHMANDU, August 14: President Bidya Devi Bhandari, raising questions over the Citizenship Bill, is preparing to send it back to parliament. The president seems to be in favor of moving forward only after a serious discussion on the issue of citizenship, which is always controversial. It is said that the president is in favor of moving forward resolving the questions left by history and the problems raised by the present on citizenship.
The president is discussing the Bill to amend the ‘Nepal Citizenship Act, 2063' passed by the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. It has been 13 days since the Citizenship Bill, pending at the Federal Parliament for three years, was passed and reached the President's Office for certification. Now, she has a constitutional obligation to take a decision to certify or send the bill back to parliament within two days.
The Office of the President said that the Citizenship Bill was discussed with various individuals and groups across the country. It is said that President Bhandari is in serious discussions as the Constitution provides for a 'check and balance' between the President and the Legislative Parliament when making laws.
President Bhandari discussed the Citizenship Bill with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Gobinda Prasad Sharma (Koirala), Attorney General Khamma Bahadur Khati and others. She has also discussed the Citizenship Bill with leaders of various political parties and civil societies. According to the President's Office sources, she has expressed interest in the issue of 'self-declaration', which is specifically provided for in the Citizenship Bill.
There is a provision in the act that ‘In the case of a person who was born in Nepal to a Nepali citizen mother and resides in Nepal and whose father has not been identified, he and his mother must make a self-declaration that his father could not be identified’. But at the time of filing the application, if the mother of such a person has died or is not mentally stable, the law also provides that the applicant must make a self-declaration with evidence. The word 'self-declaration' has been kept in other sections of the Act. Similarly, President Bhandari also discussed the issue of naturalized citizenship. She discussed these and other questions focusing on whether naturalized citizenship is a good practice in other countries or not? How is it for our country? Is this practice good or not?
The president also discussed whether or not the federal laws are needed for citizenship as mentioned in the constitution. In Article 11 of the Constitution, there is a provision regarding recognition of citizenship of Nepal. Article 113 of the Constitution mentions the subject of Bill Verification and Article 114 of the Ordinance. The Bill sent by the Council of Ministers cannot be stopped, examined and studied by the President. Only parliament can test it, and the constitution provides that the bill sent for certification can be returned with a message that the president is not satisfied.
During the discussion with Prime Minister Deuba, President Bhandari inquired about whether she would certify the bill with questions, and send it after keeping the bill and amending it. It is said that Prime Minister Deuba could not promise to re-pass the bill on the question raised by President Bhandari. However, sources say that the Prime Minister has said that he is in favor of an amendment.
According to the source, the president also gave an alternative to the question, “The citizenship law is urgently needed. In how many days will you amend the law? Are the questions serious? I will verify with questions. It should be taken to parliament and amended.” But it is said that it is not constitutional but only a matter of understanding. The Prime Minister is also of the opinion that if the constitutional questions raised by the president are justified, they should be submitted to parliament and moved forward.
President's press expert Tika Dhakal said that it is not a matter for others to predict whether the President will send back the Citizenship Bill or certify it. He said that the president is listening to everyone and discussing.
"It is not possible to predict the decision of the president," he said, “Whatever the decision is, it will be made public within the time period prescribed by the constitution. That will be reported to parliament.” Dozens of groups from all over the country came and talked to the president, he said. He said that people from different fields have been formally consulted and everyone is giving their opinions, suggestions and advice.
The president is given no other option but to certify the bill passed by the majority of parliament. Article 113 of the Constitution provides for authentication of the Bill. There is a provision that the bill submitted to the President for certification should be verified within 15 days and the notification should be given to both houses as soon as possible. In addition to the Finance Bill, there is also a provision in the Constitution that if the President feels that it is necessary to reconsider the bill, s/he can send it back to the House within 15 days of its submission. However, if the president returns a bill with a message, there is a constitutional provision that the president must verify such a bill within 15 days if both Houses reconsider and pass such a bill with amendments and resubmit it.
The second time the bill reaches the president, there is no option but to certify it. But the constitution does not envisage the option of what to do if the president does not certify the bill. There is also an understanding that when the bill is sent back, the government will take its position and the president will have no choice but to certify the bill that was re-passed without amendment.
“The president has the right to protect the Constitution. The right to consult, the right to hold discussions with the guardian body of the constitution,'' Chandrakant Gyawali, a senior advocate who is well-versed in constitutional law, says, “It is not just an official seal, the constitutional president has his/her own duties. If the violation of the constitution with grounds and reasons is found to affect the sovereignty of the nation, it can be sent with reasons and evidence.'' He also said that if parliament sends the bill for a second time, there is no option for the president but to verify it, and the government will be held accountable for it.