BSF space expanded, Punjab, Bengal name it intrusion on rights

THE MINISTRY of Home Affairs resolution to increase the BSF’s jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km contained in the worldwide border alongside Punjab, West Bengal and Assam was meant to “improve operational efficiency” and “crack down on smuggling rackets”, officers informed The Indian Express.

But the move triggered livid reactions from Opposition-ruled Punjab and West Bengal, which described it as an “irrational decision”, a “direct attack on federalism” and an try and “interfere through Central agencies”.

In a gazette notification issued Monday, the Ministry stated it was amending an earlier notification of 2014 on jurisdiction of the BSF to train its powers in states the place it guards the worldwide border.

It outlined the brand new jurisdiction as “whole of the area comprised 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 comprised within a belt of fifty kilometers in the States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.

The earlier notification of July 3, 2014, outlined the BSF’s jurisdiction as “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”.

Incidentally, the BSF’s jurisdiction within the worldwide border alongside Gujarat has been lowered from 80 km to 50 km. A Union Home Ministry official stated the modifications had been made underneath the Border Security Force Act of 1968, following strategies from the BSF, and that the intention was additionally to maintain the power’s operational jurisdiction uniform in these states.

However, 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 federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.”

West Bengal Transport Minister and TMC chief Firhad Hakim stated: “The Central Government is violating the federal structure of the country. Law and order is a state subject but the Central Government is trying to interfere through central agencies.”

Congress MP Manish Tewari tweeted that the Centre’s resolution “transgresses upon Constitutional public order & policing remit of States” and that “Half of Punjab will now fall under BSF jurisdiction”.

He identified that underneath the BSF Act, “Section 139 (ii) gives sweeping powers of arrest to BSF. It has powers of preventive arrest under Section 139 (1) & post offence arrest under 139 (ii). No mention of consultation with local police. Scheme of Act & its implementation regime needs to be studied.”

Punjab Home Minister and Congress chief Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa in contrast the move to the imposition of “internal emergency”, and one which casts aspersions on the “patriotism of Punjabis”.

“There is a feeling that the Government wants to teach a lesson to Punjab for raising its voice against the farm laws. I urge the Centre not to allow the communal harmony to be destroyed,” he stated. Randhawa stated he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to rethink the choice.

Randhawa additionally pointed to “difficulties” on the bottom. “We have a piece of land in Chandu Wadala village near Kalanaur, which falls under the first line of defence. I, being the Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, cannot go to my village. I have to seek permission from the BSF commandant. Even if permission is granted, my security cannot accompany me,” he stated.

Responding to the Minister’s remarks, a senior BSF officer stated: “We have no power to stop anyone from going to their village. We will continue to work with the state police as we are doing now. Our jurisdiction is being enhanced, their jurisdiction is not being curtailed. Also, we can only arrest someone, it is the state police that will prosecute eventually.”

The Centre’s resolution additionally led to differing voices rising from inside the Congress in Punjab. While former state occasion chief Sunil Jakhar blamed Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi for “unwittingly” handing over “half of Punjab”, the Centre’s move was supported by former CM Captain Amarinder Singh.

Jakhar had tweeted: “Be careful what you ask for! Has @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to hand over half of Punjab to Central govt. 25000sq km (out of total 50,000sq km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to states?”

Randhawa rejected Jakhar’s tweet. “He should have spoken to me. The CM had only said that the borders should be sealed so that drones and drugs should be stopped,” he stated.

Tweeting on Amarinder’s behalf, his media advisor posted: “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.”

He added: “Partisan considerations can’t & shouldn’t dictate our stand on issues of national security…We’ve to rise above politics when India’s security is at stake, as it is now.”

Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal hit out at each the Centre and the Punjab authorities for what he described as “Central rule by proxy”.

A Union Home Ministry official, nonetheless, rejected the allegations and stated that the “sole aim of the notification is to improve operational efficiency of the BSF and help them crack down on smuggling rackets”.

Asked why the BSF’s jurisdiction has been lowered in Gujarat, the official stated: “They had 15 km jurisdiction in some states and 80 km in Gujarat. So the idea was to make it uniform. In Gujarat, such a large operational area is not required since the border region guarded by the BSF is largely uninhabited with miles of Rann of Kutch.”

The senior BSF officer stated: “If Punjab has the problem of drugs and arms smuggling, Assam and West Bengal pose new challenges in the form of cattle and fake currency smuggling. These borders are also prone to illegal migration. We have been getting inputs about illegal activity deep in the hinterland but our hands were tied beyond 15 km.”

(Inputs from Deeptiman Tiwary/Delhi, Kanchan Vasdev/Chandigarh, Atri Mitra/Kolkata)

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