NEW DELHI: The home ministry’s order extending the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) in West Bengal, Punjab and Assam — giving them powers of arrest, search and seizure deeper inside these states — raised political hackles on Wednesday, especially in Congress-controlled Punjab.
Under the new order, the BSF’s jurisdiction is now a 50 km belt along the borders of these states —up from 15 km earlier. Its jurisdiction, however, has been cut short by 20 km in Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya — where it had jurisdiction up to 80 km.
Similarly in Gujarat, the BSF’s jurisdiction has been curtailed from 80 to 50 km. In Rajasthan, the BSF’s area of jurisdiction will remain the same at 50 km.
Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968, empowers the Centre to make such changes. Every order made under it, however, must be subsequently laid before each House of Parliament, which can either modify or annul it.
While the implications and motives of the latest order are assessed, the move has once again pitted Congress leaders against each other.
Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi and his deputy Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa have strongly criticised the move but former state CM Amarinder Singh has endorsed the decision.
Punjab CM Channi slams Centre
Reacting to the Home Ministry order, Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Wednesday objected to the expansion of BSF’s power and 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 Amit Shah 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 t… https://t.co/6eNx5DcbAU
— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) 1634132641000
Manish Tewari, Congress MP from Anandpur Sahib, tweeted: “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.”
He added in another tweet, “Mischievous part of Section 139 of BSF Act ‘…or of any cognizable offence punishable under any other Central Act; or punishable under any other Central Act..,’ It allows GOI to institutionalise an alternative policing paradigm. Was Punjab Govt consulted?”
Federalism being weakened: Punjab deputy CM
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa termed the decision an attempt to ‘weaken the spirit of federalism’. “There are no justifiable reasons for unilaterally changing the existing arrangements by the Government of India, except to weaken the State Government and the spirit of federalism”, asserted the Deputy CM.
In a statement, Randhawa, who also holds the portfolio of Home Affairs, said: “This illogical decision was absolutely against the spirit of the raising of border guarding forces, which are required to focus on the international border and act as the first line of defence.” He said that policing in the hinterland is not the role of a border guarding force, rather it would weaken the capacity of the Border Security Force in discharging its primary duty of guarding the international border.
Will call on PM, says Randhawa
The deputy CM further said that he would soon personally call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to resolve this issue.
Meanwhile, Randhawa categorically said that Channi has neither raised this issue with the Centre nor asked for enhancing the jurisdiction of BSF along with the international border.
Emphasizing the need for excellent cooperation between Central and State agencies, Randhawa said that such coordination must be enhanced with information sharing for taking prompt action to resist illegal activities. He further said that joint operations against drugs and terrorist modules have been successfully conducted between the BSF and Punjab Police in the past besides mechanisms for information sharing and coordination are already in place.
Punjab police castigated: Jakhar
Former Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar on Wednesday raised questions over the state government’s move to ask the Centre to “seal” the international border of the state and said Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has “unwittingly managed to hand over” half of Punjab to the Central government.
Taking to Twitter, Jakhar claimed that the move “castigated” the Punjab Police.
“Be careful what you ask for! Has Charanjit Singh Channi unwittingly managed to hand over half of Punjab to the Central govt. 25000sq km (out of a total of 50,000sq km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to States?” Jakhar tweeted.
Be careful what you ask for ! Has @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to handover half of Punjab to Central govt.… https://t.co/SO61xTnrEM
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1634120064000
Amarinder supports move
Former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh endorsed the Centre’s decision and said Central armed forces should not be dragged into politics.
“Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more and more weapons and 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,” said the former CM as per a tweet from his media advisor Raveen Thukral.
‘Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terr… https://t.co/QNjcxRnov8
— Raveen Thukral (@RT_Media_Capt) 1634131229000
“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,” added another tweet by Thukral.
To curb trafficking, says BSF
As per the Home Ministry notification, 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 etc as well as Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Meghalaya; UTs of J&K and Ladakh; and 50 km-belt in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. As per earlier notifications published on September 22, 1969; June 11, 2012; and July 3, 2014; the ‘Schedule’ area comprised the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura Meghalaya and J&K and area within 80 km border belt in Gujarat, 50 km in Rajasthan, and 15 km in West Bengal, Assam and Punjab.
While the addition of an extra 35-km stretch to the BSF’s mandate could rile the affected states – Punjab, West Bengal and Assam (the latter two ruled by Opposition 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. “We can act on information regarding entry and movement of traffickers and intruders till 50 km inside the border, rather than be limited by the need to coordinate with the state police beyond 15 km,” said an officer.
Not final yet
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 subsequently laid before each House of Parliament, which can either modify or annul it.
It should be recalled that an attempt by the erstwhile UPA government in 2011 to amend the BSF Act to extend the force’s powers of search, seizure and arrest beyond the border stretches and include other areas – such as Left-wing extremism-hit states in where BSF is deployed – had met with fierce resistance from the then opposition-ruled states as well as many opposition parties in Parliament, leading the government to withdraw the Bill from the Rajya Sabha.
BSF jurisdiction: It’s Cong vs Cong in Punjab again – Times of India