The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs headed by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma has decided to study “border management”, which will also entail deliberations on the contentious extension of jurisdiction of the Border Security force (BSF) up to 50 km inside the international borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.
The Home Ministry, through a notification published on October 11, amended the BSF Act of 1968 . The BSF’s powers which include arrest, search and seizure were till now only up to 15 km in these States. Punjab and West Bengal have objected to the change.
The parliamentary panel met to discuss the agenda. Other than the pending issues, it has added “border management” to the list, which will include deliberations of all borders protected by the Central Armed Police Forces. Informed sources said this was added on demand from the Trinamool Congress.
No policing powers
The BSF does not have policing powers and after apprehending a suspect, it can only conduct “preliminary questioning” and the seized consignment or a suspect have to be handed over to the local police within 24 hours.
West Bengal has 2,216 km long border with Bangladesh and the Trinamool contends that the extension of jurisdiction will effectively bring nearly one third of the State’s territory under the BSF’s control. Out of 23 districts in the State nearly 10 districts will be affected. This will have an impact on 21 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies which could have larger political implications.
The Opposition is expected to register its protest on the new amendment in the winter session of Parliament. The BSF Act, Section 139(3) requires the Government to lay the notification before the Parliament and the members, within 30 days, can raise a motion for discussion on annulment of such an order. “It is clearly a violation of the federal values laid down in the Constitution. We will press for annulment of the order,” a Trinamool leader said.
There was no objection or opinion from any other member from the committee on the issue when it was raised. “The committee over the next couple of months will call the State Governments and seek their opinion on the issue. Coastal security was already one of the issues that we had decided to deliberate on last year, but now we have decided to extend the ambit by discussing border management. The discussion will not be limited to BSF-guarded borders. It will also include ITBP and SSB-guarded regions,” one of the members said.