New Delhi: The amendment of the BSF Act by the Union government 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, has invited strong reactions from the respective state governments.
In Gujarat, that shares border with Pakistan, the same limit has been reduced from 80 kms to 50 kms while in Rajasthan the limit has been kept unchanged at 50 kms.
Rajasthan and Punjab also share fronts with Pakistan while Assam has an international border with Bangladesh.
The Union home ministry issued a notification in this context on October 11 amending a July, 2014 enabling provision for the Border Security Force personnel and officers while they operate in the border areas.
The about 2.65-lakh personnel paramilitary force guards over 6,300 of Indian fronts with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
BSF officials said 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 amendment effected on October 11 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 kms from the international boundary within the states of states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India," the BSF said in a statement.
Earlier, the statement said, these limits were fixed to 80 kms in case of Gujarat and 50 kms in the case of Rajasthan and 15 kms in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
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 said.
The new amendment in the BSF Act will also allow the force to apprehend any person who has committed offences under these laws.
The BSF personnel will continue to invoke these powers in 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.
Attack on federalism: Punjab govt
The Punjab government took strong exception to the move.
"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," Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi tweeted.
However, former chief minister Amarinder Singh came out in support of the move, saying, "BSF's enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let's not drag central armed forces into politics."
Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa condemned the decision and urged the Centre to withdraw it.
"I urge the prime minister and the home minister to withdraw the move. I do not understand what is in the mind of the government. It is an interference and an attack on our rights," he told reporters.
Later, in a statement, Randhawa slammed the Centre for a recent amendment in Section 139 of the BSF Act, saying it is tantamount to an "attack on federalism".
"Infringement" on the rights of the state: WB
Hitting out at the Centre over its decision to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF, the Trinamool Congress on Thursday said it was an "infringement" on the rights of the state and an attack on the federal structure of the country.
"We oppose this decision. This is an infringement on the rights of the state. What was the sudden need to enhance the BSF's jurisdiction without informing the state government?" TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
"If the BSF has to conduct any search, they can always do it along with the state police. This has been the practice for years. It is an attack on the federal structure," he added.