A BSF fast patrol boat underway in the Kutch region along the LoC

by Barshan Karmakar

The recent decision that has been taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs to extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, which is also known as the ‘First Line of India’s Defence’ has shown mixed responses. But at the same hand, an unprecedented uproar has broken out between the political circles of this country, following the implementation of this decision. As on Tuesday, after following such a response of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly also passed an Act with 112 present and voting and 68 opposing which aims to delimit the jurisdiction of the BSF that has been extended to 50 km from 15 km. But the question remains, that is this Act going to be valid, then how? So, that is what is being discussed here, withdrawing a legal basis.

Previously this jurisdiction of the BSF was only restricted to 15 km following the adjoining areas of the international border in all the three states of Assam, Punjab and West Bengal. But also in Gujarat on the other hand this jurisdiction has been decreased from 80 kms to 50 km. Now the main reason for the entire tussle can also be sought as the factor where about One-Third of the Areas of these states will directly come under the radar of the BSF. Punjab has six districts that directly face the international boundary with Pakistan and ten districts of West Bengal, where one among them has a riverine border that divides through the Indian part of the Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas District directly facing the international boundary with Bangladesh, can be unrestrictedly approached by the BSF.

But looking from the legal and administrative point of view, we must understand that this has been initiated according to Section 139 (1) of the Border Security Forces Act, 1968 which briefly states BSF's authority like that, "an officer of a lower rank is equally empowered to exercise or discharge their responsibilities against any offence that is being reported along the border or adjoining areas”.

Also, it has been directed by the Ministry of Home Affairs with regards to the authority of arrest, search and seizure of any doubted evidence, as mentioned under the CrPC, Passport (entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Passport Act of 1967 under Section 139(1) (ii) of the Border Security Forces Act, 1968.

It can also be emphasized that the BSF will not have any powers for investigating criminal cases resulting due to cross-border incidents, in case of which it has to be handed over to the respective Police Administration of the concerned State.

Looking upto the Acts passed by the Legislative Assemblies of Punjab and West Bengal also needs to be understood as to how effective and logical they can be. But generally, it won't be that easy as well to introduce a law challenging the decisions made concerning national security.

In this case, Former Judge of Calcutta High Court Justice Samaresh Banerjee has stated concerning Article 254 of the Indian Constitution as, "The BSF Act is a Union Law, but if countered with another law made in response of it by the State Legislature, it will have to require the assent of the Governor of that particular state, which may not be enough. But in that case, it can also be taken to the President of India, where he needs to give his assent to get it final and binding.”

However, the main reasons that are considered for taking this decision are not at all for encouraging imposition of brute force upon the states by superseding the authority of the state government as a result of the quarrels that are sparked off by the State Governments of West Bengal and Punjab. But rather it’s more of showing concern regarding the condition of security along the international frontiers, especially when it comes to tacking cross-border or counter-terrorism, illegal immigration, smuggling, trafficking or any related incidents across the borders to and from Pakistan or Bangladesh. So it is required for looking into this matter with utmost importance from the lens of National Security, rather by keeping aside political differences, but the thing is not being so. Whereas any kind of harsh or unparliamentary comments by politicians or any intellectuals must also not be accepted upon an organization which works as the ‘First Line of the National Defence’ being served by a total number of 2.5 lakhs personnel among which over 144 personnel have attained martyrdom in last 10 years due to various instances of action to ensure the security of a total 6623.56 kms long International Boundary of India.

Barshan Karmakar tracks military and aerospace issues closely. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN