The Centre has amended the BSF (Border Security Force) 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.
In five northeastern states-- Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya--the jurisdiction has been cut short by 20 kms. Earlier, it was up to 80 kms.
What did BSF officials say?
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 BSF 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.
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.
Here's how politicians reacted to extension of BSF's operational jurisdiction:
1. Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi
The Punjab Minister Charanjit Singh Channi government took strong exception to the Centre's move. "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 the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision," Channi tweeted.
2. Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh
Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh came out in support of the move. He said "BSF's enhanced presence and powers will only make us stronger. Let's not drag central armed forces into politics."
3. Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa
Randhawa condemned the decision and urged the Centre to withdraw it. "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 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.
4. Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal came down heavily against both the Central and the Punjab governments for what he described as "Central rule by proxy". He said that the sudden and unscheduled meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had apparently cleared the decks for this "highly provocative and dangerous move." "The Punjab Chief Minister needs to show intent and "act or abdicate," he said.
5. Trinamool Congress
Hitting out at the Centre over its decision to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF, the Trinamool Congress said it was an "infringement" on the rights of the state and an attack on the federal structure of the country. Demanding its withdrawal, the TMC claimed the decision was taken without consulting the West Bengal government.
"We oppose this decision. This is an infringement on the rights of the state. What was the sudden need to enhance the BSF's jurisdiction without informing the state government?" TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said. "If the BSF has to conduct any search, they can always do it along with the state police. This has been the practice for years. It is an attack on the federal structure," he added.
Senior TMC MP Sougata Roy alleged that the BSF doesn't have a good track record on human rights in border villages. "The Centre and Home Minister Amit Shah are trying to weaken the states. BSF doesn't have a good track record when it comes to human rights in border villages," he said.
6. Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury
Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Chowdhury slammed the Centre's move, stating that it is a "brazen infringement upon the territory of states". Targetting Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Chowdhary said, "you should not indulge any 'Chherkhani' else will face the consequences". "The expansion of the BSF area of jurisdiction upto 50 km from the border of some states amounts to the brazen infringement upon the territory of states.HMO India, you should not indulge any 'Chherkhani' else will face the consequences," tweeted Chowdhury.
7. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Jha
RJD's Manoj Jha slammed the Centre over its decision to extend the BSF's jurisdiction over a wider area along the borders of three states and said that it is not in the "spirit of cooperative federalism" and is an "encroachment upon state's rights".
Speaking to news agency ANI, Jha condemned the decision and said, "We are already agitated with the politicising of the government agencies. On top of that, if such things happen, then you are encroaching upon the states' rights." "I know that it is tempting for them (Centre) but they should be careful of their greed even if they have a majority. It hurts the entire paradigm of state's rights. This is not in the spirit of cooperative federalism," he added.
8. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed the move and said that the move will serve as a "deterrent" for illegal infiltration. "Assam welcomes the extension of BSF's operational jurisdiction. In coordination with state police, this move will serve as a strong deterrent for defeating cross border smuggling & illegal infiltration. It strengths national security and national interest," said the CM.
(With inputs from agencies)