In a move aimed at maintaining "zero tolerance" against terrorism and cross border crimes, the Centre has empowered the Border Security Force (BSF) to conduct searches, arrest suspects and make seizures up to an area of 50 km inside Indian territory from International Border (IB) along India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh borders.
The move might raise administrative and political issues as the Ministry of Home Affairs has extended the area of jurisdiction of the BSF with a fresh order issued earlier this week allowing its officers to take action to curb illegal activities linked to national security in 10 states and two Union Territories.
What it really means?
The Union government has amended the BSF 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.
As per the fresh order, the BSF, which was only empowered to take action up to fifteen kilometres in the states of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, has now been authorised to spread its jurisdiction up to 50 km without any hurdle or further permission either from central or state governments.
In Gujarat, the BSF's jurisdiction has been curtailed from 80 to 50 km. In Rajasthan, the BSF's area of jurisdiction will remain the same at 50 km. An officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest rank of member of the BSF is now empowered under the CrPC to exercise and discharge the powers and duties without an order from a Magistrate and without a warrant.
The officers are now empowered to arrest any person who has been concerned in any cognizable offence, or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received. A BSF officer has now been given the power to conduct a search of a place entered by a person sought to be arrested in its new area of jurisdiction, reported news agency ANI.
"The whole of the area comprised in the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and so much of the area comprised within a belt of fifty kilometres in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India," the order issued in the Gazette notification on October 11 mentions.
The Home Ministry took the decision "in the exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968 (47 of 1968)" making amendments in the notification of the Central government published in the Gazette of India on July 3, 2014.
As per the latest notification, an officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest rank of member of the force is empowered under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), to exercise and discharge the powers and duties under sub-section (1) of section 41, section 47, sub-section (1) of section 51, sections 52, 149, 150, 151 and section 152 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974).
Earlier notification issued on July 3, 2014 provided powers to the force's officers to conduct searches, arrest culprits and seized illegal items in 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 eighty kilometres in the state of Gujarat, fifty kilometres in the state of Rajasthan and fifteen kilometres in the states of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India".
As per the new notification, the central government has revised the 'Schedule' specifying the border stretch where BSF has been empowered to search, seize and arrest under Acts like Passport Act, NDPS Act, Customs Act as well as Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Meghalaya, UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and 50km-belt in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bengal and Assam.
As per earlier notifications on September 22, 1969; June 11, 2012; and July 3, 2014; the 'Schedule' area comprised Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Jammu and Kashmir and area within 80km belt in Gujarat, 50km in Rajasthan, and 15km in Bengal, Assam and Punjab The BSF is mandated to guard 4,096.7 km India-Bangladesh border and 3,323 km India-Pakistan border along with added responsibility of tackling Left Wing Extremism in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The BSF is also tasked to promote a sense of security among the people living in the border areas, prevent trans-border crimes, unauthorized entry into or exit from the territory of India and prevent smuggling and any other illegal activity.
How will it help?
BSF officials told PTI that 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 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 told PTI.
The new amendment in the BSF Act will also allow the force to apprehend any person who has committed offences under these laws.
Punjab govt terms Centre's decision attempt to weaken federalism
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Wednesday condemned the Centre's decision to extend the Border Security Force (BSF)'s jurisdiction over a wider area along the borders of three states and said that it is a "direct attack on federalism".
Channi requested the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to immediately roll back this irrational decision. "I strongly condemn the GoI's unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within the 50 km belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister @AmitShah to immediately roll back this irrational decision," tweeted Channi.
Meanwhile, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has termed the Centre's recent decision of allowing more jurisdiction to the Border Security Force (BSF) in border areas as an attempt to 'weaken the spirit of federalism'.
(With inputs from ANI and PTI)