Centre Extends BSF Jurisdiction in Bengal, Punjab & Assam; Opposition Cries Foul
The empowerment of the BSF to work deeper inside the states has been condemned as an attack on federal structure.
The Centre on Monday, 11 October, issued a notification declaring the expansion of jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) in the states of West Bengal, Punjab, and Assam.
The Home Ministry notification has, in a move that has been decried widely by the Opposition, increased the jurisdiction of the BSF to a 50 km belt running parallel to the national border in these states, where it guards the international border.
In the stipulated area, the central force BSF can make arrests, conduct search operations and exercise other such forms of power.
Previously, in accordance with Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act 1968, the BSF could exercise its powers over a 15 km stretch in Punjab, West Bengal, and Assam.
In the BJP-ruled Gujarat, which shares a border with Pakistan, the declaration of the 50 km-limit means a reduction from the earlier instated 80 km demarcation.
On the other hand, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh had been wholly under the BSF's jurisdiction previously as well.
What Does This Mean?
The Home Ministry's notification effectively empowers the central force BSF to arrest, search and undertake seizure operations deeper inside the states of Punjab, West Bengal, and Assam.
Since the BSF can now practise these powers over a larger area in the states, their function approaches that of the state police – an issue that has been raised by various political leaders who have labelled the move as an attack on the federal structure.
On the other hand, BSF officials have said the amendment will enable them to keep a better check on trans-border criminal activity.
"The amendment effected on 11 October 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," the security force said in a statement, news agency PTI reported.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that his state welcomes the extension of BSF’s operational jurisdiction.
"In coordination with state police, this move will serve as a strong deterrent for defeating cross border smuggling & illegal infiltration. It strengthens national security and national interest," he was quoted as saying by ANI.
'Federalism Can Go to Hell': Punjab CM Channi, Others, Lash Out
On the other hand, a number of Opposition leaders condemned the Centre's amendment, which they described as "irrational", "mischievous", and as an "infringement".
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi 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."
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister OP Soni said the Centre should review the order. "It is a state right. The Centre wants to take the state's right away. Centre & state must look after their own responsibilities," reported ANI.
Meanwhile, the other deputy chief minister of Punjab, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, said, "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," reported ANI.
"By conferring powers of police officers upon BSF officers without consulting State governments or obtaining their concurrence, the Centre is attempting to distort the federal structure of the Constitution," he added.
Meanwhile, Punjab Congress leader Pargat Singh said, "If you're deploying BSF in Punjab it shows your motive to impose governor rule," reported ANI.
Several other political leaders, including Congress General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Vice President Yashwant Sinha, also criticised the move.
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