Chandigarh: It was 15 km earlier. It is 50 now. Yet another flashpoint, yet another political bout! Some like Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal have accused the Punjab chief minister of colluding with the Centre to extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, allowing seizure, search and arrest up to 50 km from the border, thereby extending through the backdoor Centre’s rule over half the state.
Further, terming the move as an attack on the federal structure, as envisioned in the Constitution, Badal said even holy shrines like Darbar Saheb, Durgiana Mandir and Ram Tirath will come under the purview of the central forces.
“The Shiromani Akali Dal will fight to right this wrong as we stand for a genuine federal structure. It is condemnable that chief minister Channi agreed to this anti-Punjab step during his meeting with union home minister Amit Shah on October 5. Channi has sold off the interests of the state to secure a few more months in office,” Sukhbir charged.
“Being a frontline state, Punjab has been battling drug and weapon smuggling for years. The BSF had been unable to stem the flow. Now that its jurisdiction has been widened, it remains to be seen how effective it will be. With elections around the corner, the Centre’s move will become another issue apart from the farm bills, a senior Congress leader explained.
The Centre’s decision has turned politics in Punjab topsy-turvy. While former chief minister Amarinder Singh and former Congress president Sunil Jakhar, whom Navjot Singh Sidhu has replaced, have welcomed the move, many believe it could lead to further fragmentation of the party.
The Aam Aadmi Party too got in the act on Thursday over the issue. Senior party leader and leader of opposition in the assembly Harpal singh Cheema said the decision to extend the force’s area of operation had given it the latitude to search houses and carry out arrests, with or without the Punjab Police’s involvement.
Cheema explained the decision would affect six districts, including Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Fazilka. Of the total 50,632 sq km area of the state, an estimated 27,600 sq km will come under the BSF's purview.
Seeking clarification, Cheema asked the central government whether drug smuggling was on the rise or an emergency situation had arisen. “Why is a volatile atmosphere being created in Punjab before the elections? This decision is bound to create fear in the minds of the people,” he warned, adding that it will also have a detrimental effect on industry.
“The decision has all the portents of becoming a national vs anti-national issue. The Punjab Police is capable of dealing with any situation emanating from across the border. They have been nabbing smugglers and seizing drugs which have made their way into the state despite the BSF watch on the border. The decision is unfortunate,” a senior police officer remarked.