Punjab, Bengal Unhappy After Centre Enhances Powers Of BSF; Assam Welcomes Move
The government move helps establish uniformity in defining the area within which the BSF can operate, and would enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crimes.
According to a notification published in the Gazette of India on 11 October by the Union Home Ministry, the operational powers of the Border Security Force (BSF) have been expanded to include “arrest, search and seize” within 50 km from the international boundary in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Punjab, as well as the Union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier, the limit was up to 80 km from the international boundary in Gujarat; 50 km in Rajasthan; and 15 km in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
The notification, under the BSF Act, 1968, has reduced BSF’s area of operation in Gujarat from 80 km to 50 km from the border. It replaces a 2014 order which also covered the whole area of the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.
BSF is a central armed police force under the Union government. It carries out search and seizure include smuggling of narcotics, other prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners and offences punishable under any other central act among others.
The acts include Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Passport Act, 1967, NDPS Act, Arms Act, Customs Act etc. Since these haven't been amended, BSF's powers under these will continue to be only up to 15 km inside the border in Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, and will remain as far as 80 km in Gujarat.
BSF was given powers to arrest and search under the CrPC as the sparsely populated border areas had very few and short-staffed police.
After a suspect is detained or a consignment seized within the specified area, the BSF conducts “preliminary questioning” and then hands over the suspect to the local police within 24 hours as it does not have the powers to prosecute crime suspects.
The amendment establishes uniformity in defining the area within which the BSF can operate as per its charter of duties, and would enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crimes, a BSF official was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
BSF often gets information relating to crime scenes that may be out of their jurisdiction. “In West Bengal at times we get information that smugglers have gathered over 100 cows in a village and will take them to the border late in the night. If we act immediately, we can get all the cattle at one place. When they come to the border, they will be scattered and running,” a BSF officer was quoted as saying. Also, in the past, there have been instances when people have been caught and the defence has argued it was outside the jurisdiction of BSF, and the accused have been let off.
Reports say that the move was also necessitated due to increasing instances of drones dropping weapons and drugs in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.
The BSF's powers haven't been increased under the Arms Act, Customs Act and NDPS Act, which cover most of the smuggling offences on the border and deal with far greater offences, purportedly because central agencies with higher capacity than state police forces take care of these, and coordination is easier.
BSF IG (Operations) Solomon Yash Kumar Minz said:
“This is not an attack on the federal structure. Rather this is going to complement the efforts of the local police. It is an enabling provision. It’s not that the local police can’t act within the jurisdiction of the BSF. It’s just that sometimes we don’t have enough time and so BSF has been empowered to act till a greater distance and in turn strengthen the hands of the state police.”
“We do everything in coordination with our sister agencies… We will inform the local police even now. The state police have better knowledge of the ground… There is no conflict with the state police here. In coming days, the state police will feel happy about these changes as they will find their state is more secure.”
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi criticised the move as an attack on federalism, and sought a rollback of the decision. The Congress leader said in a tweet, “I strongly condemn the GoI’s [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 the federalism. I urge the union Home Minister Amit Shah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.”
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa termed the decision “illogical” and 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 in discharging its primary duty of guarding the international border.”
The Shiromani Akali Dal called the move 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,” said senior Akali leader Daljit Singh Cheema.
West Bengal Transport Minister and TMC leader Firhad Hakim said: “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.”
Assam, meanwhile, welcomed the notification, with Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma saying: “In coordination with state police , this move will serve as a strong deterrent for defeating cross border smuggling & illegal infiltration. It strengths national security and national interest."
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