In what might raise political hackles of states, the home ministry has extended the area under jurisdiction of Border Security Force (BSF) — where its officers have powers of arrest, search and seizure, on par with their counterparts in police — to a 50km-belt in West Bengal, Punjab and Assam, running along the country’s borders, from 15km earlier.
The border stretch under BSF in Gujarat stands reduced to 50km from 80km earlier, while the area remains the same in Rajasthan at 50km. As was the case earlier, no such limit has been prescribed for the five northeastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur or the Union territories of J&K and Ladakh.

Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968, empowers the Centre to notify the area and extent of the border force’s operational mandate, from time to time. As per the latest notification issued by the home ministry on Monday, the central government has revised the ‘Schedule’ specifying the border stretch where BSF would have powers of search, seizure and arrest under Acts like Passport Act, NDPS Act, Customs Act as well as Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Meghalaya; UTs of J&K and Ladakh; and 50km-belt in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bengal and Assam. As per earlier notifications on September 22, 1969; June 11, 2012; and July 3, 2014; the ‘Schedule’ area comprised Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura Meghalaya and J&K and area within 80km belt in Gujarat, 50km in Rajasthan, and 15km in Bengal, Assam and Punjab.

The addition of an extra 35-km stretch to the BSF’s mandate could rile two of the affected states — Punjab and Bengal — ruled by non-BJP parties and lead them to question the step as an encroachment upon their powers and against the federal structure. BSF sources said it would empower its personnel to carry out operations against narcotics/arms trafficking and illegal infiltration seamlessly in border stretches.

It was not immediately clear if state governments were taken on board before issuing the latest notification. However, every order made under Section 139 of BSF Act must be laid before each House of Parliament, which can either modify or annul it. Every order made under this section is before each House of Parliament while it is in session for 30 days which may be comprised in one session or in two or more successive sessions.