The Punjab government on Wednesday objected to the Centre's reported move of empowering the BSF to carry out searches and make arrests up to an area of 50 km from the international border, dubbing it as an "attack on federalism".
Some reports suggest that the Centre has empowered the Border Security Force (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.
Several political party leaders have questioned the intent of the BJP-led Centre behind the move.
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi tweeted,
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.— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) October 13, 2021
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 also 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 interference and an attack on our rights," he told reporters.
Rather than addressing the issue of drones coming from across the border, the Centre has decided to allow the BSF to take action 50 km inside the border, Randhawa said.
"I feel the Centre has doubts on our nationality. I want to say that Punjabis are patriots and love the country," he added.
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.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal came down heavily against the Centre as well as the Punjab government for what he described as "central rule by proxy".
Channi's "sudden and unscheduled" meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week had apparently cleared the decks for this "highly provocative and dangerous move", he alleged.
"It is most unlikely that the Centre would have taken such a drastic decision without the knowledge and prior consent of the state government and all the noises which Channi and his colleagues are now making are a mere attempt to hide their complicity in this decision," Badal said in a statement.
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.
Senior TMC MP Sougata Roy alleged that the BSF doesn''t have a good track record on human rights in border villages.
"The Centre and Home Minister Amit Shah are trying to weaken the states. BSF doesn''t have a good track record when it comes to human rights in border villages," he said.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury warned the Union Home Ministry of "consequences" over the move.
The expansion of #BSF area of jurisdiction upto 50 km from border of some states amounts to brazen infringement upon the territory of states.— Adhir Chowdhury (@adhirrcinc) October 14, 2021
@HMOIndia , you should not indulge any 'Chherkhani' else will face the consequences.
The state BJP slammed the TMC for its criticism, saying that its opposition to the changes is aimed at appeasing its vote bank.
"The TMC government has failed to check cross-border infiltration and smuggling. The TMC''s opposition is aimed at appeasing its vote bank," said Sayantan Basu, the BJP''s state general secretary.
The Union Home Ministry issued a notification in this context on October 11, amending a July 2014 enabling provision for the BSF personnel and officers while they operate in the border areas.
BSF officials said the amendment will help them in effectively curbing trans-border crimes and the new amendment brings in "uniformity" for its operations in the borders states of Punjab, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam where it can now operate within 50 km area from the border.
In Gujarat, which shares border with Pakistan, the same limit has been reduced from 80 km to 50 km, while in Rajasthan, it has been kept unchanged at 50 km.
(With PTI Inputs)