‘The BSF can only arrest, search, seize and then hand everything over to the state police. Where does the question of transgressing the federal structure arise?’

The increasing threat of terror attacks targeting installations and personnel using drones was the main reason behind increasing the operational limit of the Border Security Force (BSF) from the existing 15 km to 50 km.

Apart from this, it was also analysed, deliberated and concluded by security officials that the smuggling of cattle, gold and drugs would be better tackled if BSF’s area of operation to carry out search, seize and arrest is expanded to counter such activities that have been taking place on India’s western border with Pakistan and eastern border with Bangladesh.

Top Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and BSF officials told The Sunday Guardian that the instances of drones being used by enemy entities to carry out anti-India operations have increased exponentially in the last couple of years, and it is believed that the number of such instances will multiply even more in the coming years as technology advancement in the field of drones takes place.

A senior BSF official, speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that in the Western Sector, drones have become a big security concern and if the BSF’s jurisdiction was not increased from 15 km to 50 km, it would have become very difficult for the force to tackle this threat.

“As per the investigations, the drones that are currently being used in inimical operations in our territory to drop arms, ammunition, explosives and drugs from across the border, are being flown at a height which is undetectable with the naked eye. They also escape the radar due to the same reason. These drones are pressed into operation at nightfall when it becomes impossible for our men posted along the border to detect them as they are just able to see either a small red light blinking or hear the buzzing sound of the drone. And even before they react to the sight or sound, the drone drops its payload and either flies back or gets destroyed as desired by its operator.”

“The drones that are being used presently are small and can fly up to 30 km straight and the BSF had a jurisdiction of 15 km. So, when the drone crosses this 15 km limit, the BSF can do nothing about it. But now, with the increased jurisdiction of the BSF, the personnel posted on the border will get increased reaction time. So our men can be posted at the location at which the payload will be dropped by these drones. Our enemies will now have to use bigger drones that can be easily detected as they make a lot of noise and are much easier to spot. Our enemies will now have to look for new ways and better technologies,” the BSF officer said.

According to a senior BSF official, the increased jurisdiction on the Eastern Sector, which borders Bangladesh will give the BSF the much-needed time to take anti-smuggling operations.

“The Eastern Sector witnesses a lot of smuggling, including that of cattle, gold, drugs, contraband articles as well as human trafficking. Increased jurisdiction has now given the BSF the time to disrupt time and space management tactics of the smugglers that are a vital component of smuggling,” the official said.

Explaining this, the officer said, “When the smugglers move with their contraband substance, be it cattle, gold, or men, they plan everything by time. Earlier, the smugglers would wait, hide with their goods 15 km away from the border and as night fell, they would start moving towards the border. Knowing that it would take about 4 to 4.5 hours to cover this distance of 15 km, they would start moving towards the border at around 8 pm so that they would reach the border by 1 to 2 am. (As per findings, the smugglers take 1 hour to cover 4 km at night). Now, with the BSF having a jurisdiction of about 50 km, the smugglers will have to hide with their goods at a location which is more than 50 km away from the border so as to escape our eyes. The smugglers will not be able to undertake this 50 km journey in one night, giving us enough time to catch them.”

On 11 October, the MHA extended the jurisdiction of the BSF up to 50 km inside the International Borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. The BSF’s powers—which include arrest, search and seizure—were limited to up to 15 km in these states. At the same time, the Ministry reduced BSF’s area of operation in Gujarat from 80 km from the border to 50 km.

According to the new notification, the BSF’s jurisdiction now comprises “the whole of the area 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 within a belt of fifty kilometres in the States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.

The gazette notification empowers the BSF to arrest, search and seize within this 50 km radius of the International Borders in respect to the Passport Act of 1967, the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920, and specified sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in the extended area of its jurisdiction. The BSF’s powers and duties regarding other Central Acts such as the Customs Act, the Central Excise and Salt Act, the Narcotics and Psychotropic (NDPS) Act, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, etc., do not apply to the extended area of jurisdiction and remain same as earlier, thus, in a way, laying emphasis on prevention of cross border crimes and illegal immigration.

The notification does not provide the BSF the power to investigate and prosecute, which implies that the BSF still has to hand over the arrested person and the seized consignments to the state police within 24 hours after minimal questioning.

This increase in the powers of the BSF along the International Borders has unleashed a political war in states like West Bengal and Punjab where opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are in power. Both state governments have passed resolutions in their respective state Assemblies against this notification, claiming that the notification is “transgression” of the federal structure of India.

However, the BSF and MHA have clarified that this would not lead to any transgression or conflict between the states and the Centre. A senior MHA official told The Sunday Guardian, “There is no question of any breach of the federal structure. The BSF has not been given the power to investigate and prosecute, that still is with the state police. The BSF can only arrest, search and seize which in turn has to be handed over to the police. So where does the question of transgressing of federal structure arise here? In fact, the state police should be happy that they have an extra force to guide them and help them nab international criminals and thwart terrorist attacks.”

“Our duty is to protect the borders and ensure that the borders become leak proof. We do not want to get into politics; we are a disciplined force and will carry out all the duties mandated by the law,” a BSF spokesman told The Sunday Guardian.