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Amid Backlash from Congress-led Punjab, BSF Clarifies Elevated Powers in Border State for ‘Uniformity in Jurisdiction’

Amid backlash from Congress-ruled Punjab over the central authorities’s choice to grant powers of arrest, search and seizure deep into Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, Border Safety Pressure (BSF) on Wednesday clarified that the step had been taken to “give uniformity to jurisdiction”. According to a new government notification dated October 11, BSF officials can search, seize and arrest, at par with their police counterparts, 50 km into Punjab, Bengal and Assam. Earlier, the limit for BSF in these states was 15 km.

The BSF said, “The amendment effected on October 11, 2021, establishes uniformity in defining the area within which Border Security Force 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 km from the international boundary within the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India. Earlier, the limit was fixed to 80 km in case of Gujarat and 15 km in case of Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam,” BSF said in a press release.

Officials also told News18 that BSF did not have power to investigate and had to hand over suspect/accused to local authorities. They said an arrest by BSF would be applicable for limited crime as per the Code of Criminal Procedure.

They said the BSF could not be involved in any criminal act other than cases related to the NDPS Act, arms and ammunition.

The Congress-led government in Punjab, however, did not take kindly to the Centre’s move. Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi has condemned the 35-km increase in Punjab, which is a border state, calling the decision of the ministry of home affairs (MHA) “irrational”.

He 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 the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately rollback this irrational decision.”

Channi, however, had met home minister Amit Shah on October 5 urging him to “seal” the international border along Punjab to curb trafficking of drugs and weapons into the state from Pakistan. But a week later, on October 11, MHA increased the BSF’s jurisdiction to search, seize and arrest deep inside the border state along with West Bengal and Assam.

While Punjab and West Bengal are non-BJP states, Assam is a BJP-ruled state. Punjab has already responded to the Centre’s move, but there has been no response from the Bengal government as of now.

Another Congress leader, Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari also tweeted his misgivings about the MHA’s move and called it a “transgression”. He said, “Notification enhancing operational mandate of BSF,15 to 50 KM’s in Punjab,West Bengal &Assam transgresses upon Constitutional Public order & Policing remit of States Half of Punjab will now fall under BSF jurisdiction @CHARANJITCHANNI must oppose it.”

Former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, however, had a different view on the matter. The leader, who recently resigned from the chief minister’s post, held onto his previous views on national security. In tweets posted by his media adviser Raveen Thukral, Amarinder said, “Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics.”

He additionally mentioned: “Our troopers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing extra & extra weapons & medicine being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will solely make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics.”

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