Recently the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revised the jurisdiction of one of its Central Armed Police Force, Border Security Forces (BSF), in states where it operates. The new notification has extended the jurisdiction in three states, particularly Assam, Punjab and West Bengal. It has reduced the jurisdiction in Gujarat through a gazette notification, all up to 50 km from the international border.
In the states of Assam, Punjab and West Bengal under the previous regime, Border Security Force had the powers to arrest, search and seize up to the range of 15 km from the international border. On the other hand, in Gujarat, where the Border Security Force previously had the power of arrest, search and seizure up to 80 km from the nearest international border.
This step has also been criticized by the state government of West Bengal and Punjab on the claim that this will encroach upon the jurisdiction of the State Police and hence an attack on the federal structure. In reply to such accusation, the government clarified that it had exercised the powers under the Border Security Force Act of 1968, the legislation which established the set up of this Armed Forces in the backdrop of the Indo – Pak war of 1965.
What does the notification say?
It has amended the previous notification dated 3 July 2014 and outlined the jurisdiction up to the whole of the state for the states of Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, while up to 50 kilometers from the international border in the states of Assam, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
What are the powers conferred to the Border Security Force?
The Border Security Force enjoys powers of arrest, search and seizure under several laws such as Narcotics Drugs Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act, Arms Act, Customs Act, Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973, Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920, Passport Act, 1967. However, the jurisdiction has been extended only under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973, Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920, Passport Act, 1967, while for the rest of the legislation, the previous range of 15 km will keep operating.
When and why were these powers given to Border Security Force?
When BSF was set up, the power to arrest, search and seizure were conferred to this force for the first time under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and specific other laws such as the Customs Act and Passport Act.
At that point in time, the areas adjoining the borders were not populated as they are today. Due to such a scarce population, there was hardly any police station for miles. Therefore, it was felt necessary that BSF be given powers to arrest in order to prevent trans-border crimes. Even if there are now police stations, most of them are facing a shortage of manpower.
Why has the government extended the jurisdiction?
As per the sources, the government has made such a move to bring in uniformity and improve operational inefficiency.
This move was also required due to several instances of drones being caught carrying arms, ammunition and drugs in Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab.
Will it impact the jurisdiction of state police?
While from a distance, the extension of BSF’s jurisdiction may infringe the power of state government as maintaining law and order is the prerogative of the state.
However, in practicality, these complement the state police and other agencies of the central government. For instance- If BSF catches someone with drugs beyond its jurisdiction, it can always engage Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Similarly, when a smuggler with arms is caught, the BSF, beyond its jurisdiction it can ask the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for the matter to be taken over.
There is no issue of overlapping jurisdiction of BSF with the state police. In the states of Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, the jurisdiction of BSF extends up to cover the whole area of the state and respective union territory, but that does not imply that the local police is not functioning there. The local is more acquainted with the situation there. Also, the BSF cannot prosecute the offenders in any case because that is the domain of the state police, which files the charge sheet and the arrested individual, and the seized material has to be handed over to the local police, who handles the procedure afterwards.
Therefore, the step has ensured uniform jurisdiction of BSF in the major states, and hopefully, it will prevent any further issue of jurisdiction between the local police as it can only work in the desired manner when there is mutual coordination among the state agencies.