The Centre has amended the BSF Act to authorise the force to undertake search, seizure and arrest within a larger 50 kms stretch, instead of the existing 15 kms, from the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
In Gujarat, that shares border with Pakistan, the same limit has been reduced from 80 kms to 50 kms while in Rajasthan the limit has been kept unchanged at 50 kms. Rajasthan and Punjab also share fronts with Pakistan while Assam has an international border with Bangladesh.
But the Punjab government took strong exception on Wednesday to the Centre’s reported move of empowering the BSF to carry out searches and make arrests up to an area of 50 km from the international border, dubbing it as an “attack on federalism”.
Though some Punjab Congress leaders attacked the Centre, the move has also pitted Congress against Congress.
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is facing flak from his own party leader Sunil Jakhar who appears to be blaming Channi for Centre’s decision.
Channi during his meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah had asked him to keep a check on drugs and arms supply from across the border. But he himself has criticised union government’s move.
“I strongly condemn the government’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 roll back this irrational decision,” Channi wrote on Twitter after he faced resistance from party leaders.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa also condemned Centre’s decision and termed it an infringement on the federal structure that will create an atmosphere of fear in Punjab.
“I urge the prime minister and the home minister to withdraw the move. I do not understand what is in the mind of the government. It is an interference and an attack on our rights,” he told reporters.
Rather than addressing the issue of drones coming from across the border, the Centre has decided to allow the BSF to take action 50 km inside the border, Randhawa said.
“I feel the Centre has doubts on our nationality. I want to say that Punjabis are patriots and love the country,” he added.
Later, in a statement, Randhawa slammed the Centre for a recent amendment in Section 139 of the BSF Act, saying it is tantamount to an “attack on federalism”.
“This illogical decision was absolutely against the spirit of the raising of border-guarding forces, which are required to focus on the international border and act as the first line of defence,” he said.
However, Congress leader Sunil Jakhar, who was earlier in Punjab CM’s race, lashed out at Charanjit Singh Channi. Slamming Channi, Jakhar wrote, “be careful what you ask forHas @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to handover 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?”
Meanwhile, former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh welcomed Centre’s decision saying, “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 powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics.”
The decision regarding BSF came when the Union home ministry issued a notification in this context on October 11 amending a July 2014 order enabling provision for the BSF personnel and officers while they operate in the border areas. There are about 2.65-lakh personnel paramilitary force guards over 6,300 of Indian fronts with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
BSF officials said the amendment will help them in effectively curbing trans-border crimes and the new amendment brings in “uniformity” for its operations in the borders states of Punjab, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam where it can now operate within 50 kms area from the border.
“The amendment effected on October 11 establishes uniformity in defining the area within which Border Security Force can operate as per its charter of duties and execution of its role and task of border guarding in its areas of deployment.
“This will also enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crime and to an extent of 50 kms from the international boundary within the states of states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India,” the BSF said in a statement.
Earlier, the statement said, these limits were fixed to 80 kms in case of Gujarat and 50 kms in the case of Rajasthan and 15 kms in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
The notification will allow the border guarding force to execute the powers of search, seizure and arrest for the purpose of prevention of any offence punishable under the Passport Act, the Registration of Foreigners Act, the Central Excises and Salt Act, the Foreigners Act, the Foreign Exchange Management Act, the Customs Act or of any cognisable offence punishable under any other Central Act, a senior officer said.
The new amendment in the BSF Act will also allow the force to apprehend any person who has committed offences under these laws.
The BSF personnel will continue to invoke these powers in the “whole of the area” comprised in the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.