New Delhi: Expansion of the Border Security Force jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km inside the international border along Punjab, West Bengal and Assam by the home ministry has been done to curb trans-border crime and is not an intrusion into autonomy of states, BSF officers said.
“This amendment will enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crime, which includes smuggling of drugs, ammunition, busting the cattle smuggling and fake currency rackets, in the said states. This move has given more responsibility to BSF as the depth of which we can operate has been expanded,” a senior officer told ThePrint.
“This, however, will be need-based. It is not that the troops will always be deployed in that 50 km area of the state. Just that our area of operation has been increased,” he added.
In a notification Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it was amending a 2014 notification related to the jurisdiction of the BSF to exercise its powers in states that touch the international border.
Earlier, the limit was fixed to 80 km in the case of Gujarat and 15 km in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. While the limit has now been increased to 50 km along Punjab, West Bengal, and Assam, it has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km in Gujarat.
“Moreover, the current amendment also establishes uniformity in defining the area within which BSF can operate. Like for Rajasthan it was 50 km, which has been kept to 50 km. For Gujarat it was 80 km and now has been brought down to 50 km, while for Assam, Punjab, and West Bengal, it has been increased to 50 km from 15 km. People should not read much into it,” said the officer quoted above.
“The move aimed at getting uniformity. Moreover, it will give tactical advantage to the force to tackle border crimes more effectively,” a senior home ministry official, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
However, the move has been criticised by opposition-ruled states Punjab and West Bengal, with Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi calling it a “direct attack on federalism”.
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What changes for BSF
According to the new notification, BSF’s jurisdiction now comprises “whole of the area in the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and so much of the area within a belt of fifty kilometers in the States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.
Meanwhile, the earlier notification, issued on 3 July 2014 and amended by the MHA Monday, defined BSF jurisdication as the “whole of the area comprised in the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and so much of the area comprised within a belt of eighty kilometers in the State of Gujarat, fifty kilometers in the State of Rajasthan and fifteen kilometers in the States of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.
According to the BSF official, there has only been an increase in jurisdiction in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab.
“The only difference from then and now is the increase in jurisdiction of BSF pertaining to the number of km in states of Assam, West Bengal and Punjab. For Rajasthan it remains the same,” the officer said.
“Rest all the powers of the BSF personnel operating in the border states, which includes working in unison with the local police on drug seizures, infiltrations, will continue,” he added.
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Opposition runs foul
Opposition leaders, meanwhile, condemned the home ministry’s decision.
In a tweet Wednesday, Punjab CM Channi called the move irrational and asked Home Minister Amit Shah to withdraw it.
“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,” said Channi.
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
Trinamool Congress leaders alleged that the move was taken without consulting the West Bengal government.
“We oppose this decision. This is an infringement on the rights of the state. What was the sudden need to enhance the BSF’s jurisdiction without informing the state government?” TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh told PTI.
“If the BSF has to conduct any search, they can always do it along with the state police. This has been the practice for years. It is an attack on the federal structure,” he added.
Congress MP Manish Tewari also called out the MHA notification and said it transgressed on the constitutional public order.
“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,” tweeted Tewari Wednesday.
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
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) October 13, 2021
In another tweet, Tewari noted that Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968, gives sweeping powers of arrest and preventive arrest to the force.
Section 139 (i i ) gives sweeping powers of arrest to BSF. It has powers of preventive arrest under Section 139 (1) & post offence arrest under 139 ( i i). No mention of consultation with local police. Scheme of Act & it’s implementation regime needs to be studied@kbssidhu1961 pic.twitter.com/c4Q6e7pndi
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) October 13, 2021
Responding to this, a second BSF officer said that these are not recent additions.
“These powers have been given to the force under the BSF Act of 1968. This is not an addition that has been made now. Moreover, there is nothing called a sweeping power for arrest. In any operation, the local police are consulted, and assistance is taken from them to make arrests. This notification in no way has expanded the powers of BSF but has just expanded the area of operation,” the officer told ThePrint.
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