Amid backlash from Congress-ruled Punjab over the central government’s decision to increase its powers with respect to border states Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, the Border Security Force (BSF) on Wednesday clarified that the step had been taken to “give uniformity to jurisdiction”. According to a new gazette notification dated October 11, BSF officials can now search, seize and arrest, at par with their police counterparts, 50 km into Punjab, Bengal and Assam. Earlier, the jurisdictional limit for BSF in these states was 15 km.
The BSF said, “The amendment effected on October 11, 2021, establishes uniformity in defining the area within which Border Security Force can operate as per its charter of duties and execution of its role and task of border guarding in its areas of deployment.”
“This will also enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crime and to an extent of 50 km from the international boundary within the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India. Earlier, the limit was fixed to 80 km in case of Gujarat and 15 km in case of Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam,” BSF said in a press release.
Officials also told News18 that BSF did not have power to investigate and had to hand over suspect/accused to local authorities. They said an arrest by BSF would be applicable for limited crime as per the Code of Criminal Procedure. The BSF could not be involved in any criminal act other than cases related to the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act, arms and ammunition.
MHA ORDER TRIGGERS POLITICAL CONTROVERSY
The Congress-led government in Punjab, however, did not take kindly to the Centre’s move. Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi has condemned the 35-km increase in Punjab, which is a border state, calling the decision of the ministry of home affairs (MHA) “irrational”.
He tweeted: “I strongly condemn the GoI’s unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within 50 KM belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.”
I strongly condemn the GoI’s unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within 50 KM belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) October 13, 2021
Channi had met home minister Amit Shah on October 5 urging him to “seal” the international border along Punjab to curb trafficking of drugs and weapons into the state from Pakistan. A week later, on October 11, MHA increased the BSF’s jurisdiction to search, seize and arrest deep inside the border state along with West Bengal and Assam.
While Punjab and West Bengal are non-BJP states, Assam is a BJP-ruled state. Punjab has already expressed its displeasure, but there has been no response from the West Bengal government as of now.
Another Congress leader, Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari also tweeted his misgivings about the MHA’s move and called it a “transgression”. He said, “Notification enhancing operational mandate of BSF,15 to 50 KM’s in Punjab,West Bengal &Assam transgresses upon Constitutional Public order & Policing remit of States Half of Punjab will now fall under BSF jurisdiction @CHARANJITCHANNI must oppose it.”
MHA Notification enhancing operational mandate of BSF,15 to 50 KM’s in Punjab,West Bengal &Assam transgresses upon Constitutional Public order & Policing remit of States Half of Punjab will now fall under BSF jurisdiction @CHARANJITCHANNI must oppose it https://t.co/Yy3pOnbFGN— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) October 13, 2021
The Shiromani Akali Dal, like the ruling Congress, has termed the order an “infringement on the federal structure” and urged Channi to take it up with the Centre. In a statement, the Akalis said this was a move to “hand over almost half of the state to the BSF” and “imposition of President’s rule through backdoor in nearly half of Punjab”.
The party said it virtually turned the state into a de facto union territory, and that this “devious attempt” to place the state directly under central rule must and will be opposed.
Former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, however, had a different view on the matter. The leader, who resigned from the chief minister’s post last month, held onto his previous views on national security. In tweets posted by his media adviser Raveen Thukral, Amarinder said, “Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics.”
‘Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics’: capt_amarinder 1/2(File pic) pic.twitter.com/nu4DhAQnAz— Raveen Thukral (@RT_Media_Capt) October 13, 2021
He also said: “Partisan considerations can’t & shouldn’t dictate our stand on issues of national security. I’d said that at the time of the 2016 surgical strikes & am saying it again. We’ve to rise above politics when India’s security is at stake, as it is now.”
WHAT DOES THE NEW GAZETTE NOTIFICATION SAY
The latest notification states changes in jurisdiction with respect to Gujarat, Punjab, WB and Assam. Jurisdiction in Gujarat has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km, whereas it has been increased in Punjab, WB and Assam from 15 km to 50 km.
On October 11, MHA issued a notification to give uniformity in jurisdiction to BSF. In states like Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, BSF now has 50-km jurisdiction as before.
The Centre can notify the area and extent of the BSF’s operational mandate from time to time, as per Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act.