Source: This post is based on the article “Securing the States” published in Indian Express on 16th October 2021.
Syllabus– GS3: Various Security Forces and Agencies and their Mandate
Relevance: Border management and the role of security forces
Synopsis: Border Security Force should be left to do its job.
The Ministry of Home Affairs recently issued a notification extending the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force from 15 km to a depth of 50 km along the international borders in three states — Punjab, Assam and West Bengal.
However, the chief minister of Punjab has condemned and called it as the Government of India’s “unilateral decision” to give additional powers to the BSF as a “direct attack on federalism”.
What does the notification say?
Previous notification: The last notification of the MHA (July 3, 2014), defined the jurisdiction of the BSF, stated that the force could operate in the entire states of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya without any restrictions.
In Gujarat, it had jurisdiction up to a depth of 80 km and in Rajasthan up to 50 km. In Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, the BSF jurisdiction was up to a depth of 15 km only.
New rules: Under the latest notification, there is no change in the north-eastern states and Rajasthan. In Gujarat, jurisdiction has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km.
Controversial changes: In Assam, West Bengal and Punjab the BSF jurisdiction has been extended from 15 km to 50 km. It is this part of the notification which has generated controversy.
Why is the revision of BSF powers being opposed by Punjab, Bengal?
Share International borders: In the context of recent developments in the Af-Pak region, the radical groups are going to make a determined attempt to destabilise Punjab, where there have been several attempts to drop weapons from drones; for instance, the seizure of 3,000 kg of heroin that originated from Afghanistan and the killing of five army personnel in Surankote (Jammu and Kashmir).
Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, will almost certainly renew their onslaught in the border states.
Other reasons: It has already undergone a huge demographic change due to its accommodative attitude towards illegal migrants. Also, assam faces multiple problems of ethnic insurgencies, smuggling, counterfeit currency, drug trafficking, etc.
What is the need and propriety of the government order?
Previous efforts: In 2011, the UPA had brought a bill to vest the BSF with powers to search, seize and arrest in any part of the country where it was deployed. However, it had to be dropped in the face of opposition to the proposed measure.
State police capacity: the police across the country are in a state of decline and they need the assistance of central armed police forces even for maintaining normal law and order. As such, their effectiveness against the emerging trans-border threats is suspect.
It is in this context that the Government of India decided to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF in three states.
To strengthen cooperation: The latest notification only seeks to reinforce the capabilities of the state police in securing the states under section 139 of the BSF Act, which empowers the members of the force to discharge certain powers and duties within local limits of the areas specified in the schedule.
Role of BSF: The jurisdiction of the state police has neither been curtailed nor its powers reduced in any manner. It is just that the BSF will also be exercising powers of search, seizure and arrest in respect of only the Passport Act 1967, Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 and specified sections of the Criminal Procedure code.
The BSF would be handing over the accused together with the seized contraband to the local police. The power to register FIR and investigate the case remains with the state police.