From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Section 139 of the BSF Act
Mains level : Paper 3- BSF powers
The Ministry of Home Affairs recently issued a notification extending the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force from 15 km to a depth of 50 km along the international borders in three states — Punjab, Assam and West Bengal.
Background of the notification about jurisdiction of BSF
- The last notification of the MHA (July 3, 2014), which defined the jurisdiction of the BSF, stated that the force could operate in the entire states of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya without any restrictions whatsoever.
- In Gujarat, it had jurisdiction up to a depth of 80 km and in Rajasthan up to 50 km.
- In Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, the BSF jurisdiction was up to a depth of 15 km only.
- Under the latest notification issued on October 11, 2021, there is no change in the northeastern states and Rajasthan.
- In Gujarat, jurisdiction has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km.
- The controversial change is in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab, where the BSF jurisdiction has been extended from 15 km to 50 km.
- It is this part of the notification which has generated controversy, though the criticism has been made by leaders of Punjab and West Bengal.
Why the government of India decided to extend the jurisdiction of BSF?
- Assam, West Bengal and Punjab have international borders.
- Changed threat perception: The threat perception from across the international borders has undergone a sea change in the context of recent developments in the Af-Pak region.
- Efforts to destabilise Punjab: Radical groups of different shades are feeling emboldened and are going to make a determined attempt to destabilise Punjab.
- Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, will almost certainly renew their onslaught in the border states.
- West Bengal has already undergone a huge demographic change.
- Assam faces multiple problems of ethnic insurgencies, smuggling, counterfeit currency, drug trafficking, etc.
- Police need assistance: The police across the country are in a state of atrophy and they need the assistance of central armed police forces even for maintaining normal law and order.
- As such, their effectiveness against the emerging trans-border threats is suspect.
Implications for powers of police and federalism
- The home ministry’s latest notification only seeks to reinforce the capabilities of the state police in securing the states under section 139 of the BSF Act, which empowers the members of the force to discharge certain powers and duties within local limits of the areas specified in the schedule.
- The jurisdiction of the state police has neither been curtailed nor its powers reduced in any manner.
- It is just that the BSF will also be exercising powers of search, seizure and arrest in respect of only the Passport Act 1967, Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 and specified sections of the Criminal Procedure code.
- The power to register FIR and investigate the case remains with the state police.
- The Indian Constitution, no doubt, fulfils some conditions of a federation, but it leans towards a strong Centre.
National security is a paramount consideration. It is unfortunate that the BSF is being dragged into political controversy when it would actually be over-stretching itself to strengthen national security.