Jag Mohan Thaken Chandigarh
The central Home Ministry on October 11, 2021, issued notification regarding the amendment in BSF Act to authorize the Border Security Force to undertake search, seizure and arrest within an extended area of 50 km stretch, instead of the previous 15 km, from the international border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. This step of BJP led central government is being opposed tooth and nail by the opposition parties in Punjab and West Bengal and may create a conflict between the union government and these states.
The leaders of these two states state these new orders as an attempt to interfere with the federal structure of the country and think that these orders would not only demoralize the state police force but also give rise to unnecessary confrontation with BSF.
Allegation of Punjab Leaders
Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Navjot Singh Sidhu stated this step as an encroachment on constitutional rights of the states and disregarding the democratic powers of the people and alleged that the Centre is weakening the country’s federal structure, by creating “a State within a State”.
In his tweets on October 25, Sidhu said, “Without obtaining consent of the state government, the notification amounts to encroachment on constitutional rights of the states, disregarding the democratic powers of the people of Punjab vested in the state legislature and state executive.”
Sidhu also alleged, “Centre is weakening country’s federal structure, by creating“a State within a State” BSF means Border Security Force, What is definition of border ? 50 Kms ?? Public order, which connotes public peace & safety is primarily the responsibility of State Govt.”
Deputy Chief Minister Punjab Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who holds the portfolio of Home, highlighting about the ramifications of this unilateral decision of Central Government in an all-party meeting, said, “The notification which has been thrusted upon the state would not only demoralize our police force but also give rise to unnecessary confrontation with BSF. The law and order is the state subject and Centre has not even bothered to consult us on this sensitive issue which amounts to encroachment upon the powers and role of state by the Centre thus tinkering with the federal structure of the constitution.”
Former Punjab state Congress president Sunil Jakhar, stating that nearly half of the total area of Punjab will come under the control of BSF after this notification, has warned against the political usage of BSF.
In a tweet on October 14, he says, “We are proud of our security forces which are meant to secure our borders and protect India from foreign aggressors. Using them to cover up the failures & to clean up the mess created by leaders & govts is very alarming. It not only denigrates our brave forces but also adversely affects their morale, discipline & preparedness. It’s this use of our forces as a political tool which should be avoided.”
All Parties in Punjab, except BJP, denounced the notification
The All-Party Meeting, where BJP was absent, was convened by the Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Monday, October 25, which resolved to strongly oppose the Centre Government’s decision to extend the jurisdiction of BSF from 15 to 50 KM areas along the International Border in the state constitutionally, legally and politically in order to restore the status quo that existed before the notification of October 11, 2021.
In a unanimously adopted resolution to oppose this issue tooth and nail by the representatives of all the political parties except the BJP which abstained from the meeting. The resolution reads, “Punjab is a land of martyrs and warriors. Punjabis have made unprecedented sacrifices in the country’s freedom struggle besides the wars of 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The Punjabis have received the maximum gallantry awards in the country. Punjab police is the unparalleled patriotic force across the globe which has always immensely contributed to maintaining the country’s integrity and sovereignty with its bravery and courage. To maintain the law and order is the responsibility of the State Government according to the Constitution and the Punjab government is fully competent for the same. The Central Government’s decision to enhance the jurisdiction of BSF from 15 to 50 kms speaks of distrust and humiliation of Punjab police and its people. The Centre should have discussed with the state government on this issue before taking this major decision. The Centre has not yet considered it necessary to inform the state government and its people about why it has taken such a big decision. This amounts to gross infringement of the spirit of Federalism. The Centre has earlier deprived the farmers from their legitimate rights by making three black farm laws and now by extending the jurisdiction of BSF amounts to petty politics. Therefore, all the political parties present in the meeting unanimously condemned this action of Union Government and demands immediate withdrawl of the notification issued by the Home Ministry on October 11, 2021.”
Further course of action
About taking the next step, Chief Minister Punjab Charanjit Singh Channi in a press conference on October 27, 2021, said, “A Special Session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha will be convened on Nov. 8 to unanimously reject GOI’s authoritarian notification extending BSF’s jurisdiction and reject the three “black” farm Laws. My Govt. is determined to fight against Centre’s direct onslaught on Punjab’s federal autonomy & territorial dignity through all means – constitutionally, legally & politically. The central government is trying to undermine the spirit of federalism and disrupt the federal structure of the constitution. We will take every step that is necessary to protect the interests of Punjab.”
Channi, in all-party meetings, had also stated that the Punjab government would also take legal recourse by filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the unilateral decision taken by the Centre without taking the state’s consent which amounts to infringement of its constitutional rights and against the spirit of federalism.
It was decided to seek an appointment from the Prime Minister so as to enable the Chief Minister to lead a delegation of all political parties to urge him to relook the decision and subsequently withdraw this contentious notification for extending the jurisdiction of BSF forthwith.
On the demand of the representatives of political parties, Channi also asked them to make use of their good offices to prevail upon the non-BJP governments and other regional parties especially in the states of West Bengal and Rajasthan adding the Chief Minister said he would also take up this issue with his counterparts to mount pressure on the Centre to roll back its decision which is a direct onslaught on the Centre-State relations.
Showing his clear intention over the issue, Punjab Chief Minister Channi assured that the congenial atmosphere of peace, harmony and brotherhood of the state would not be allowed to vitiate at any cost.
CM Channi roared, “You can cut my veins to ascertain my passion and love for Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat and I care two hoots for the position of Chief Minister in the interest of my state and its people. Don’t consider my simplicity and humility as weakness and I assure that the congenial atmosphere of peace, harmony and brotherhood of my state would not be allowed to vitiate at any cost.”
Support of West Bengal Chief Minister
The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday, October 25, has also criticized the Centre government’s move to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF, alleging that it is an attempt to interfere with the federal structure of the country.
“About the BSF matter, we have sent a letter protesting the move. Earlier, they had jurisdiction of 15 km, there were incidents of firing in Balurghat or Cooch Behar. Now, they extended it to 50 km. This is an attempt to interfere with the federal structure of the country,” Ms Banerjee said at an administrative review meeting.
“We do not have problems in the border areas and share very cordial relations (with neighbouring countries). There is no need to create this confusion. Law and order is a state subject. BSF must look after what they are responsible for and we will have total support for that,” she said.
BJP Leader favours the notification
Punjab BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia clarified, “Along with the BSF, the Punjab Police can also carry out searches and register cases. Drones are used to smuggle weapons and drugs and to stop these illegal activities, the jurisdiction of BSF has been extended”.