Demographic change in Assam and West Bengal was a key reason to extend the jurisdiction of Border Security Force up to 50 km -- up from the existing 15 km -- from the international border in these states, BSF chief Pankaj Singh told reporters today.
The extension has become a matter of political controversy with Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accusing the BJP of using the Central paramilitary forces to make inroads into the state politically. The extension of jurisdiction also took place in Punjab, where the state's Congress government has passed a resolution against it.
Mr Singh said this change in district-wise demography has taken place over a period. BSF officials point out even the 2011 census points to significant demographic change along border districts.
"The demographic balance has been upset to a great degree... it has changed for whatever reasons. There have been agitations in certain states and there have been many, many times revolts because of these reasons... even the voter pattern has changed in border districts," he said.
"So, the government probably thought that the BSF jurisdiction is changed from 15 km to 50 km... it can help, support and supplement the state police in catching infiltrators," Mr Singh said.
The move, he added, will also help control trans-border crimes, including smuggling of narcotics and weapons.
The government of Bengal and Punjab, however, have expressed apprehension that such a move encroaches upon the powers of the state government.
Last week, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the BJP was trying to use the paramilitary force for its gains and flagged the issue during her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Law and order in an area is a state subject. The BJP is utilising these agencies like the BSF for their party activities. I will not allow anyone to forcibly take hold of areas," she was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India.
Terming the Centre's move an insult to the state police, Punjab has passed a resolution in the state assembly, seeking the withdrawal of the notification.
The Centre has tried to reassure both states. The Union home ministry termed the apprehensions "ill founded".
"Their apprehensions are ill-founded," Minister of State for Home Affairs Nitya Nand Rai told the Lok Sabha today in response to a written question.
"The extension of BSF's territorial jurisdiction would result in better and more effective control on trans-border crimes in conjunction and cooperation with state police," Mr Rai said.