Centre’s move to extend BSF’s jurisdiction reignites Congress vs Congress in Punjab

The decision empowers the BSF to conduct searches, arrest suspects and make seizures up to an area of 50 km inside the Indian territory from the international border.

Charanjit Singh Channi is facing criticism within the party as the Union Home Ministry's move comes days after the former's meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah.

The Centre’s decision to extend the extend the BSF’s jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km inside the international border along three border states has led to a fresh infighting within the Punjab Congress. Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is facing criticism within the party as the Union Home Ministry’s move comes days after the former’s meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah.

In a gazette notification issued Monday, the Ministry said it was amending an earlier notification of 2014 on jurisdiction of the BSF to exercise its powers in states where it guards the international border.

It outlined the new jurisdiction as “whole of the area comprised in the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and so much of the area comprised within a belt of fifty kilometers in the States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.

The decision empowers the BSF to conduct searches, arrest suspects and make seizures up to an area of 50 km inside the Indian territory from the international border. Earlier, the BSF was only empowered to take action up to 15 km inside Punjab.

After coming under attack from his own party, Channi lashed out at the decision. “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,” he 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”. “This illogical decision was absolutely against the spirit of the raising of border-guarding forces, which are required to focus on the international border and act as the first line of defence,” he said.

The Congress leader said policing is not the role of a border-guarding force, rather it will weaken the capacity of the BSF in discharging its primary duty of guarding the international border.

Highlighting the need for excellent cooperation between central and state agencies, he said such coordination must be enhanced with information sharing for taking prompt action to resist illegal activities. He further said joint operations against drugs and terrorist modules were successfully conducted by the BSF and the Punjab Police in the past, besides mechanisms for information sharing and coordination are already in place.

There are no justifiable reasons for unilaterally changing the existing arrangements by the Centre, except to weaken the state government and the spirit of federalism, Randhawa said. The notification issued by the Centre, without obtaining the concurrence of the state government, amounts to an “encroachment” on the powers of the states, he said.

By conferring powers of police officers on BSF officers without consulting the states or obtaining their concurrence, the Centre is “attempting to distort” the federal structure of the Constitution, he added.

Meanwhile, Amarinder Singh said the issue of central armed forces should not be dragged into politics. “Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more & more weapons & drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence & powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics: capt_amarinder,” read a tweet by his media advisor. ”

Partisan considerations can’t & shouldn’t dictate our stand on issues of national security. I’d said that at the time of the 2016 surgical strikes & am saying it again. We’ve to rise above politics when India’s security is at stake, as it is now’: @capt_amarinder,” read another tweet.

Earlier, former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar appeared to attack his own party’s government over the issue. “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.

However, Randhawa said Channi has neither raised the issue with the Centre nor asked for enhancing the jurisdiction of the BSF along the international border.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Manish Tewari asked Channi to oppose the move. “MHA Notification enhancing operational mandate of BSF, 15 to 50 KMs in Punjab, West Bengal & Assam transgresses upon Constitutional Public order & Policing remit of States. Half of Punjab will now fall under BSF jurisdiction @CHARANJITCHANNI must oppose it,” he wrote on Twitter.

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