Recently, the Punjab and West Bengal Assemblies passed a resolution rejecting the Central government’s notification concerning the extension of the Border Security Force (BSF) jurisdiction in the respective states. The Centre had earlier issued a notification extending the BSF’s jurisdiction for conducting searches, arresting suspects, and further making seizures within the area of 50 kilometres inside Indian territory from the international borders of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
It is ironic that in both these cases, the decision of the Central government has been regarded as a blow to the federal structure by claiming law and order as a state subject. According to experts, no state government could override a Central legislation passed by Parliament (which is the case here); there are remedies available in case anyone feels there is an irregularity in the Central Act, but enacting their own laws in contravention with Central legislation cannot be done constitutionally. Thus, it is a political move rather than legal or constitutional, and a clear misuse of democratic processes, systems, and institutions by the two state governments. It is unfortunate that the state legislatures and executives are engaged in conflict with the Central legislature and executive.
Further, the language of the resolutions is highly provocative and driven by narrow politics. It incites the local sentiments. It goes a step further in suggesting that maintaining law and order is the sole responsibility of the state government and for this purpose, the state police are fully competent. It also projects the extension of the BSF jurisdiction as a blow to the morale of the state police. The move of the Central government has been described as an expression of distrust and “petty politics”, and a gross violation of the spirit of federalism.
It is noteworthy that in 2011, during the UPA-II regime, then home minister P Chidambaram had proposed a bill to a similar effect in Parliament. Wasn’t the Congress then aware that this subject is in the state list and any such step by the Centre would damage the federal structure? Further, the Border Security Force Act, 1969 was implemented by the then Congress government, led by Indira Gandhi. Wasn’t the federal structure under threat then?
Before issuing this notification, Home Minister Amit Shah had discussed this subject in a meeting with the respective state governments. That’s why Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi remained silent initially. When Opposition parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the Akali Dal put him in the dock by accusing him of “surrendering more than half of Punjab to the Modi government” and “sacrificing the interests of Punjab”, an all-party meeting was called, fearing the “political loss”. In this meeting; it was decided to convene a special session of the Punjab Assembly. As for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, she never shies away from locking her horns with the Modi government.
It is worth noting that former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and former BSF DGP Prakash Singh termed the notification a “necessary and inevitable step” and regarded its opposition as politics on national security. The politicisation is also a strategy to divert attention from the ongoing infighting in Punjab Congress. To add to it is the state government’s utter failure in curbing the drug menace issue in Punjab, with one estimate saying that more than two-thirds of the state’s households have at least one addict in the family. Drug smuggling from Pakistan and Afghanistan is the prime reason for the spread of this menace in Punjab. Being a border state and in proximity with Kashmir make it a special target of Pakistan’s jihad design led by ISI.
Of late, Pakistan has changed its strategy to revive terrorism in India; it now focuses on spreading fear and instability by “targeted killing” of civilians, instead of targeting security forces. To accomplish this goal, it has increased the smuggling of drugs, weapons and counterfeit currency across the borders. Drones that are equipped with state-of-the-art Chinese technology having a range of up to 50 km are being used for these purposes. This undoubtedly is the biggest threat to the future of the country's youth and national unity and integrity. Thus, it is imperative to stop Pakistan-run bootlegging of narcotics, weapons and counterfeit notes.
Also, in West Bengal and Assam, there are incidents of infiltration in large numbers from Bangladesh. Smuggling and infiltration have been patronised by several politicians. Local and foreign players involved in nefarious activities operate swiftly under political patronage. In such a situation, the need to increase the jurisdiction of the BSF becomes inevitable.
The Centre’s notification has also tried establishing uniformity in the jurisdiction of the BSF. Earlier, its jurisdiction was limited to 15 km from the International Border in Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, 50 km in Rajasthan, 80 km in Gujarat, while it was for the entire territory of Jammu & Kashmir and northeastern states. Now in Punjab, Assam, West Bengal, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the BSF’s jurisdiction has been uniformed to 50 km from the International Border; whereas in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast it has been kept as it was. Under Section 139 of this Act, the BSF can only conduct search, seizure and arrest within its jurisdiction. Only the state police have the right to register FIR and prosecute. As per the above jurisdiction of the BSF, the law and order remain under the control of the state machinery.
The allegation of curbing powers of the police or encroachment on its jurisdiction is, therefore, baseless.
The writer is Dean, Students’ Welfare, Central University of Jammu. Views expressed are personal.