The centre's reported move to empower the Border Security Force (BSF) to carry out searches and arrests over a wider belt along the borders of three states has provoked a huge controversy in Punjab, with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, targetted by his own Congress colleagues, calling it a "direct attack on federalism". BSF's jurisdiction in the border states of West Bengal, Punjab and Assam will be expanded up to 50 km from the boundary. The government order suggests that the central force can arrest and carry out searches and seizures over a region where its powers could clash with those of the state police in Punjab's Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Pathankot. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, for example, is around 35 km from the Wagah border with Pakistan.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has extended BSF’s area of jurisdiction in three states by 35 km, while cutting it short by 30 km in another, according to an official order issued on Wednesday.
As per the order, the Border Security Force (BSF) has now been empowered to take action within a belt of 50 km in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam running along the borders of India. Earlier, the BSF had jurisdiction till only 15 km in these states.
In Gujarat, the jurisdiction, which was earlier 80 km, has now been cut short to 50 km, while no change has been made for Rajasthan, where the BSF has jurisdiction of up to 50 km.
For Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir, the order remains the same with the border guarding force’s jurisdiction in the whole of the state.
Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968 empowers the Centre to notify from time to time the area and extent of operation of the BSF.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has come down heavily on the Centre’s move, terming it as a ‘direct attack on federalism’.
“I strongly condemn the government of India’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 Union Home Minister Amit Shah to immediately roll back this irrational decision,” the Chief Minister said in a tweet.
Even as the change in BSF jurisdiction is being opposed by the current Punjab dispensation, former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has backed the Centre’s move to empower the BSF.
“Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more and more weapons and drugs being pushed by Pakistan-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence and power will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics,” he said.
Slamming the Centre for amending Section 139 of the BSF Act to give the border and guarding force wider jurisdiction and terming it tantamount to an attack on federalism, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa asked Union Home Minister Amit Shah to withdraw the decision.
Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) described the decision as Central rule in the state through the back door.
In a statement, Randhawa, who also holds the Home portfolio, said “this illogical decision was absolutely against the spirit of the raising the border guarding forces, which were required to focus on the international border and act as the first line of defence”.
He said policing in the hinterland is not the role of a border guarding force, rather it would weaken the capacity of the Border Security Force (BSF) in discharging its primary duty of guarding the international border.
He said that he would personally call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Home Minister to resolve this issue.
Meanwhile, the SAD described the move to hand over almost half of the state to the BSF as “the imposition of the President’s rule through the back door in nearly half of Punjab”.
“This virtually turns the state into a de facto Union territory. This devious attempt to place the state directly under the Central rule must and will be opposed,” senior Akali leader and former minister Daljit Singh Cheema said in a statement.
He said this was at the same time, “a frontal assault on the federal principle through highly questionable misuse of constitutional provisions”.
Cheema said it was shocking the BSF has been given sweeping powers divesting the state police of even the normal policing duties.
“As per the Constitution, only the state government can call out the Central forces to aid and assist the state administration. The Centre cannot thrust these forces on the state without a formal request from the state government,” he said.
The Akali leader also called upon Chief Minister Charanjit Channi to come clean on the state government’s stand on the sensitive issue.
Congress MP from Anandpur Sahib Manish Tewari asked Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi to oppose the Ministry of Home Affairs notification.
Manish Tewari said in a tweet, “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 “.
Tewari added that “Mischievous part of Section 139 of BSF Act or of any cognizable offence punishable under any other Central Act; ..’It allows GOI to institutionalise an alternative policing paradigm. Was Punjab Govt consulted?”
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.
The addition of an extra 35-km stretch to the BSF’s mandate could lead to a political storm in Punjab and Bengal which are ruled by non-BJP parties. The Congress leaders from Punjab are the first to oppose the move. (IANS)