‘Attack on federalism’: MHA move on BSF powers triggers full blown political war – Who said what

The Centre has amended the BSF Act to authorise the force to undertake search, seizure and arrest within a larger 50 km stretch, instead of the existing 15 km.

The Centre has amended the BSF Act to authorise the force to undertake search, seizure and arrest within a larger 50 km stretch, instead of the existing 15 km.

The Centre’s decision to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF in states of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam has kicked off a war of words with the Opposition calling it a “direct attack on federalism” and the BJP calling the criticism a “needless brouhaha”.

The Centre has amended the BSF Act to authorise the force to undertake search, seizure and arrest within a larger 50 km stretch, instead of the existing 15 km, from the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.

Several political party leaders, including Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Congress have questioned the intent of the BJP-led Centre behind 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,” Channi tweeted on Wednesday.

However, he was attacked by his own party colleague and former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, who referred to Channi’s recent meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

“Be careful what you ask for! Has @CHARANJITCHANNI unwittingly managed to handover half of Punjab to Central govt. 25000sq km (out of total 50,000sq km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to states,” he tweeted.

On the contrary, former Punjab CM Captain 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.

The Trinamool Congress called the move said an “infringement” on the rights of the state and an attack on the federal structure of the country. Demanding its withdrawal, the TMC claimed the decision was taken without consulting the West Bengal government.

“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.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala referred to the drug haul at Gujarat’s Mundra Port as the reason behind the Centre’s decision. “The Chronology- • 25,000 Kgs of Heroin Drugs came through Adani Port, Gujarat on 9/6/2021. • 3,000 Kgs of Heroin Drugs caught at Adani Port, Gujarat on 13/9/2021. • BSF jurisdiction unilaterally increased from 15 Kms to 50 Kms in Punjab. Federalism Dead, Conspiracy Clear,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed the move saying that it will strengthen national security and national interest. “Assam welcomes extension of BSF’s operational jurisdiction. In coordination with State police, this move will serve as a strong deterrent for defeating cross border smuggling & illegal infiltration. It will strengthen national security & national interest,” he tweeted.

BJP leader Amit Malviya said that the Opposition’s criticism of the decision was a “needless brouhaha”, adding that the BSF had similar jurisdiction limits in Gujarat and Rajasthan too.

Incidentally, the BSF’s jurisdiction in the international border along Gujarat has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km. A Union Home Ministry official said the changes were made under the Border Security Force Act of 1968, following suggestions from the BSF, and that the aim was also to keep the force’s operational jurisdiction uniform in these states.

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