The story so far
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), through a notification in the Gazette of India on October 11 , enhanced the “arrest, search and seize” powers of the Border Security Force (BSF) up to 50 km from the international boundary within Assam, West Bengal and Punjab. In Gujarat, the limit was reduced from the existing 80 km to 50 km. In Rajasthan, the 50-km limit remains unchanged.
The notification replaces a 2014 order under the BSF Act, 1968, which also empowers the force to conduct counter-insurgency operation in Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Though Jammu and Kashmir was not mentioned in the 2014 order, references to it exist in a previous such amendments in 1973. The October 11 order specifically mentions the two newly created Union Territories-J&K and Ladakh.
What is MHA’s role here?
The BSF is a central armed police force (CAPF) that functions under the Union government. It was raised in 1965 in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan war. The BSF Act was passed by Parliament in 1968 and the rules governing the Act were framed in 1969. The MHA issues all orders pertaining to the BSF and other CAPFs such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), National Security Guard (NSG) and Assam Rifles. India is a Union of States and under One Border One Force policy, the BSF is deployed along the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders. It is also deployed in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) and is routinely deployed for election and other law and order duties on the request of State governments.
Under what provisions BSF is empowered to arrest, search and seize?
According to a background note submitted by the MHA to a parliamentary standing committee in 2011, Under Rule 15 of the BSF Rules, 1969, the BSF has been assigned three primary tasks while deployed along the borders: promote a sense of security among the people living in the border area, prevent trans-border crimes/unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India and prevent smuggling and any other illegal activity.
What are the violations that BSF is empowered to deal with?
The violations against which the BSF carries out search and seizure include smuggling of narcotics, prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners and offences punishable under any other Central Act.
The MHA has given powers to the BSF personnel in border areas under the Customs Act, the Passport
Act, the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Subsances Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, the Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944, the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947.
The BSF does not have police powers; after apprehending a suspect it can only conduct “preliminary questioning” and has to hand over a seized consignment or the suspect to the local police within 24 hours. It does not have powers to prosecute crime suspects. Police is a State subject under the Constitution.
Why the amended order now?
According to a BSF official, the amendment “establishes uniformity in defining the area within which the BSF can operate” and also to improve its operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crimes.
The operational writ of the BSF was different in different border States and the fresh notification ends this anomaly.
What is the State governments contention?
The two Opposition ruled border States- Punjab and West Bengal, have termed the MHA’s move an attack on federalism.
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has demanded a rollback. However, State’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said the Chief Minister never made such a demand with the Central Government.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC)in West Bengal has termed the move an “infringement” on the rights of the State and an attack on the federal structure of the country.