The Home Ministry, headed by Amit Shah, has decided to increase the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force in the states of Assam, Punjab and West Bengal. In contrast, BSF’s jurisdiction has been decreased in Gujarat. All four are states that share borders with the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Earlier, BSF’s range of authority was up to 15 km in Punjab, Assam and West Bengal from the international border. Now, it has been increased to 50kms in all three states. However the situation in Gujarat is different where the jurisdiction on BSF was reduced to 50kms from 80 km.
With the authority BSF possess, they can search, seize and arrest anyone who is doubtful for national security in their jurisdiction. It also includes taking swift action against cross-border smuggling of narcotics, prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners, and other unauthorised acts under the central act.
While governments of BJP rule Gujarat and Assam, West Bengal and Punjab are governed by Non BJP regimes. Hence, both the states have called the decision to enhance BSF’s authority as an attack on federal structure as it leads to a decrease in the rights of state’s police.
The History of BSF
BSF or the Border Security Force is one of India’s seven paramilitary forces. The force came into existence after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Its sole purpose is to guard the border areas with Pakistan and Bangladesh and to ensure security against all kinds of threats at these borders.
Called as India’s first line of defence, the total strength of this force is around 2.4 lakhs and always a senior IPS officer is the Director-General of BSF. Also a part of five Central Armed Police Forces, BSF has a Water wing, Airwing and an Artillery regiment to boost. It is the only CAPF to have all of these as its assets.
The BSF comes directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) like all other paramilitary forces. It currently has 186 battalions to its name, making it the world’s largest force specialising in guarding international borders.
What is the Issue with Alteration of BSF’s Jurisdiction?
A notification issued in 2014 regarding BSF was as follows :
“The 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 80 kilometres in the State of Gujarat, 50 kilometres in the State of Rajasthan and 15 kilometres in the States of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.
According to the earlier notification, BSF’s authority was just up to 15kms from international borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. After this, they could not use their power to search, seize and arrest anyone they deemed suspicious.
However, the current notification alters BSF’s position in these states. In Gujarat, their limit is reduced to 50 kms while it is increased to 50 kms in states of Assam, Punjab and West Bengal. In these states, BSF under their jurisdiction has the authority to seize goods and arrest suspicious persons under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Passport Act, and the Passport (Entry to India) Act.
This is the cause of conflict between the states of Punjab, West Bengal and Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the constitution, law and order is a state subject and the responsibility of upholding the rule of law is Police’s responsibility. However an increase in BSF’s strength means curtailment in the rights of state’s Police.
Interestingly, BSF despite all the special powers, can’t act as Police. After arrest of the suspect, they can just do ‘preliminary questioning’ and then have to hand the suspect to local police in 24 hours. They can’t punish the suspect even if found guilty.
However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said that they are fully equipped to change the jurisdiction of BSF under BSF act 1968. The act clearly states that Central Government has the power to unilaterally alter the jurisdiction of Border Security Force in border areas. There is no need for either consultation or concurrence of the state governments if the powers enhanced are under Central Acts. Moreover, the BSF Act mandates the consensus of the state in question only when the powers or duties being conferred are under a State Act.
The MHA says that the decision to increase the jurisdiction of BSF was based on frequent incidents of drugs, weapons being dropped through drones in areas of Punjab and J&K. Hence, this move would bring uniformity and ‘operational efficiency in the functioning of BSF.