‘Casts aspersions on patriotism of Punjabis’: BSF area expanded to 50 km inside IB

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Punjab and West Bengal, have described centre’s move  to extend the BSF’s jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km inside the international border as an “irrational decision”, a “direct attack on federalism” and an attempt to “interfere through Central agencies”.

The Ministry of Home Affairs decision to extend the jurisdiction of BSF  along Punjab, West Bengal and Assam was meant to “improve operational efficiency” and “crack down on smuggling rackets”, officials told The Indian Express.

In a gazette notification issued Monday, the Ministry said it was amending an earlier notification of 2014 on jurisdiction of the BSF to exercise its powers in states where it guards the international border.

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 in the international border along Gujarat has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km. A Union Home Ministry official said the changes were made under the Border Security Force Act of 1968, following suggestions from the BSF, and that the aim was also to keep the force’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 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.”

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

He pointed out that under 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 leader Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa compared the move to the imposition of “internal emergency”, and one that 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 said. Randhawa said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to reconsider the decision.

Randhawa also pointed to “difficulties” on the ground. “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 said.

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

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