Border Security Force (BSF) officers will now have the power to arrest, search, and of seizure to the extent of 50 km inside three new states sharing international boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) claims that recent drone droppings of weapons from across the border have prompted this expansion in the jurisdiction of the BSF.
However, this move is quickly snowballing into a debate on state autonomy. The Chief Minister of Punjab has already protested against it.
"I strongly condemn the government'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 Amit Shah to immediately roll back this irrational decision," Charanjit Singh Channi tweeted.
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.— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) October 13, 2021
The MHA claims that this decision has been taken to curb illegal activities linked to national security in 10 states and two Union Territories, but it might also raise administrative and political issues.
"It's a very politically sensitive move. The main aim of BSF is to guard borders and stop infiltration. Recent cases have shown they have not been able to guard the delineated line," a senior police official claims.
According to him, this may also lead to regular confrontations with local police, and also villagers, when searches and seizures are done. "Their operational duties are around Border Outposts but with these new powers they would also operate well within jurisdictions of some states," he adds.
"If we have intelligence on any case, we will not have to wait for local police to respond and we can take preventive action well in time," counters a senior BSF officer.
As per the new notification, BSF officers will be able to conduct searches and arrests over a wider area in West Bengal, Punjab, and Assam. BSF has got the right to take this action under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Passport Act, and the Passport (Entry to India) Act.
In Assam, West Bengal, and Punjab, the BSF has got the right to search and arrest just like the state police.
The MHA has given permission for raids and arrests up to an area of 50 km inside Indian territory from the International Border (IB) along India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh. Earlier, this range was 15 km. In addition to this, BSF will also be able to search and arrest in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, and Ladakh.
However, along with this, the jurisdiction of BSF in Gujarat has been reduced and the extent of the border has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km to bring uniformity, while in Rajasthan the radius area has been kept 50 km as before.
No boundaries have been set for the five northeastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, and Manipur. Along with this, there is no boundary set in Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Officers claim that in these states BSF is deployed in internal security duties so they operate accordingly.
The new notification also empowers an officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest ranking member of the BSF, under the CrPC, to exercise and discharge the powers and duties without an order from a Magistrate, and without a warrant.
The officer is now empowered to arrest any person who has been concerned in any cognisable offense, 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.
Section 139 of the Border Security Force Act, 1968 empowers the Center to notify from time to time the area and extent of operation of the Border Security Force. The Union Home Ministry has issued a notification modifying the 'Schedule' of the border areas, where the BSF will have the powers of search, seizure, and arrest under Acts like Passport Act, NDPS Act, and Customs Act.