Extending jurisdiction for BSF empowers Indian security

Extending jurisdiction for BSF empowers Indian security
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Extending jurisdiction for BSF empowers Indian security

Highlights

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has modified the areas of jurisdiction for the Border Security Force (BSF) to exercise its powers in the States bordering Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has modified the areas of jurisdiction for the Border Security Force (BSF) to exercise its powers in the States bordering Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

This new notification makes an amendment to the 2014 notification by increasing the area of jurisdiction of the BSF in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam to 50 kms from the existing 15 kms. It also reduces the area in Gujarat to 50 kms from existing 80 kms. There are no changes to the area of jurisdiction of the BSF in either North East States or in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

As usual the decision drew sharp criticism from the Opposition. The BSF released a statement after the Centre drew criticism over the change of the security force's jurisdiction along the international borders. The BSF said that the step was taken to "give uniformity to jurisdiction" across the states.

Apparently, national security concerns following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan played a key role in the decision. The spurt in terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir is a pointer to the increased anti-India activity. Narcotics traffic and smuggling in fake Indian currency notes is another concern, of course.

Punjab in particular faces Pakistani drone menace which penetrate deeper into the Indian territory and drop weapons. West Bengal and Assam have always witnessed operations of cattle smugglers and other criminals who bypass the BSF net. The increased area of jurisdiction would certainly offer the BSF a greater strength in nabbing the criminals and terror elements.

The new notification empowers the BSF to search, seize and arrest only in respect to the Passport Act of 1967, the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and under the specified sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in the amended area of jurisdiction. This is a point that has gone unnoticed or deliberately ignored by the critics of the new policy.

The BSF cannot, even after the amendment, apply its powers or interfere with the Customs Act, the Central Excise and Salt Act, the Narcotics and Psychotropic (NDPS) Act and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 in the extended area. It has got to confine itself in respect of these Acts to the earlier 15 kms range alone in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam and 80 kms for Gujarat.

The amendment now is aimed at controlling illegal migration too apart from cross-border crimes. Again, we should note that the powers to investigate or prosecute do not lie with the BSF. All that it could do in the event of catching someone is to handover the person and all seized materials to the State police within 24 hours of preliminary interrogation.

That being the case, why should there be these amendments at all? Well, as stated earlier, the imperative of such extension of jurisdiction was felt necessary in view of the excitement among the anti-India elements both within and across the borders. There is little to read it as an attack on federalism as the Congress and TMC governments termed it or as an infringement on the rights of the State. The ground reality does not change in the States. It is the local police that has all the powers.

Yet another reality that should not be overlooked is the fact that the BSF always coordinates its work with the local police by taking their help. Whatever the present government has done is just an experiment aimed at safeguarding our borders. In fact, the previous UPA regime too attempted to change the area of jurisdiction in 2011 itself.

The Rajya Sabha saw the Border Security Force (Amendment) Bill introduced wherein it was proposed to insert "or in any part of the territory thereof" in place of "adjoining the borders of India". The then Congress government said the BSF role should be extended and expanded to strengthen internal vigil and security too and that such a provision was already there for the Acts governing the CRPF, ITBP and the SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal).

A closer perusal of the BSF activity shows us that it always prefers to work in tandem with the local police force everywhere. Traditionally, the BSF confines itself to cross border issues but when it comes to acting against the criminals emanating from the neighbouring countries, it is the local police that has the powers and the BSF does not disturb the balance in any way. Even the BSF personnel are aware of the fact that they are not knowledgeable of the local laws.

The police of the border States has an excellent rapport with the BSF and always cooperate with the latter in case of any operation in civilian areas. The BSF knows that the local populations are not favourably disposed towards it and the local police is the best bet under such circumstances.

Extension of the jurisdiction now to help the BSF zero in on the criminal or anti-Indian elements will only help the country in the long run. It is common knowledge that though the BSF has information about such activities and perpetrators of the same, it feels helpless due to its limited jurisdiction.

The amendment is yet to get the approval of both the houses of the Parliament. Meanwhile, the TMC members sought a greater discussion on the notification and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had conceded the same. Let us hope that politics do not interfere with governance matters in this issue too. The Union Home Ministry would do well to sensitise the police force as well as the BSF to the needs of the changed scenario in States concerned.

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