A circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs last year, which has been a subject of intense debate in Goa lately, drastically changes the path to European citizenship via the Portuguese passport route. The circular states that if a person gets an Indian passport issued or re-issued by not disclosing that citizenship of another country is being acquired is liable for revocation of the Indian passport. The law does not permit dual citizenship. A non-disclosure is considered a legally punishable offence.
The debate whether obtaining an Assento de Nascimento can be considered valid Portuguese citizenship or no is settled since Assento in simple language explains that a person’s birth has been registered in Portugal, leave aside the further process of applying for the Billet de Identidade (Portuguese Identity Card). Thousands and thousands of Goans have applied and have been applying for Portuguese passports for nearly two decades, and there could be possibly thousands who have opted to keep both passports exploiting a loophole in the system.
A grey area in the revocation circular is that it is subject to disclosure, or subject to authorities getting documentary proof of a person holding dual citizenship. Nonetheless, revocation of the Indian passport could have catastrophic consequences on people and can cripple lives and livelihoods in a big way.
In the first case consider parents who apply for Assento to facilitate their wards acquire Portuguese citizenship. If a parent's passport is revoked he/she will be in the middle of nowhere, stateless, neither an Indian citizen nor a Portuguese national. For government employees, they run the risk of losing their jobs and their retirement benefits, besides facing legal action for violating a law.
For the youngsters who are awaiting their Portuguese passports, revocation could again have disastrous consequences because the person will not be able to proceed with acquiring the foreign passport since a valid Indian passport is needed. And those who have already acquired the much-sought Portuguese passport, a revocation would mean that they cannot obtain the OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status, which becomes crucial for those wanting to have the best of both worlds and retain their roots in their motherland. OCI virtually acts like a lifelong visa to visit India and gives full rights to people except for buying agricultural properties and exercising their franchise.
From a common man's perspective, the situation looks grim and scary. The sad irony is that there is a deafening silence from the political class despite the consequences for people. The reasons may be manifold. Firstly, it is perceived that a vast majority of those applying for Portuguese passports are from the minority community. Although, over the years, people from across communities have been applying for these maroon-colour passports. Secondly, nobody has found the need to introspect and understand the impact of revocation on Goans.
A majority of Goans have ventured to Europe to eke out a better living, and not to set up homes there. Their remittances continue to flow back to the homeland. Goans working overseas, seamen and those working in various parts of the world have a stake in Goa's tag of a "high standard of living" State. Shutting doors on those seeking opportunities abroad is not going to do any good for Goa.
Unfortunately, when this newspaper dived into the issue of Portuguese passports, there was a muted response from the political class, including the NRI commissioner, while a few prominent politicos who otherwise root for welfare and make useless people-friendly overtures have called ‘time-out’ saying they need time to study the matter. We understand that a few of our legislators have also onboarded this European journey, and are facing a dilemma themselves?
It is appalling that such a matter that puts a large section of Goans on the edge is been treated with disdain. The need of the hour is to appeal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to reconsider revocation and consider a more prudent and people-friendly approach. A State delegation should have immediately moved Delhi. While citizens will be at peril, leaders too may find navigating the political tide difficult if the swell of this issue hits electoral shores.