Though the notification issued by the Central Government has established uniformity in the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, opposition parties are compromising on national security and contempt of the Constitutional machinery, to bake political bread and harness vote bank.
Recently, the Punjab Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution rejecting the central government's notification concerning the extension of BSF jurisdiction in the state. The Centre earlier had issued a notification extending the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) for conducting searches, arresting suspects, and further making seizures within the area of 50 km inside Indian territory from the international borders of India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh.
West Bengal Chief Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee has also written a letter demanding revocation of this notification, failing, which she has threatened to reject via state assembly. Both these steps are classic examples of compromising national security and destroying the federal structure to grind one's axe for petty political gains.
Ironically, the Central Government decisions have been termed a blow to the federal structure by claiming law and order as a state subject. According to experts, legality is an issue with new laws as no state government could override any central legislation passed by Parliament (which is the case here). There are remedies available if anyone feels there is an irregularity in the central Act, but enacting their laws in contravention with central legislation cannot be done constitutionally. Thus, it is a more political move than legal or constitutional and a clear act of misuse of democratic processes, systems, and institutions. It is extremely sad and unfortunate that the state legislatures and the executives are engaged in conflict with the central legislature and the executive.
Further, the language of the resolution and the letter is highly provocative and driven by narrow politics. It incites the local sentiments. It went a step further in suggesting that maintaining law and order is the sole responsibility of the state government, and for this purpose, the state Police are fully competent. It also projected the extension of BSF Jurisdiction as a blow to the morale of state police. The central government's move has been described as an expression of distrust and petty politics and a gross violation of the spirit of federalism. The allegations that have been levelled against the central government, on the contrary, fits most accurately to the ruling Congress in Punjab.
It is noteworthy that in 2011, during the UPA regime, the then home minister Mr. P. Chidambaram had proposed a bill to a similar effect in the Parliament. Wasn't the Congress party then aware that this subject is in the state list and any such step by the Center would damage the federal structure, and at the same time will create unnecessary tension in Centre-State relations! Further, The Border Security Force Act, 1969 was implemented by the then Congress government, led by Smt. Indira Gandhi. Wasn't the federal structure under threat, then? In fact, what is being proclaimed neither existed yesterday, nor it's a reality today. Rather, it exposes the dubious and covetous character of Congress's main opposition party, protesting against the notification for immediate political gains.
Before issuing this notification, Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah had discussed this subject in a meeting with the respective state governments. That's why Channi remained silent initially.
When opposition parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the Akali Dal put him in the dock by accusing him of surrendering more than half of Punjab to the Modi government and sacrificing the interests of Punjab& an all-party meeting was called, fearing the political loss. This meeting was agreed to negate the union government's notification by convening a special session of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. As was expected, Ms Mamta is on the same track and wants to encash this opportunity.
It is worth noting that former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and former Director of Border Security Force Parkash Singh, a flamboyant and honest police officer, termed the notification as a necessary and inevitable step and termed its opposing by opposition parties as politics on national security.
The opposition is creating confusion by messing up the issue of national security with law and order. It is not without any reason that opposition parties like Congress and Trinamool Congress and their governments are vocally opposing the central government's decision. The politicization of these issues is also a strategy to avert attention from the ongoing infighting in the Punjab Congress.
Drug abuse has been on the rise in India for the past two decades. The youth of Punjab is in the grip of this menace in large numbers. One estimate says that more than two-thirds of Punjab's households have at least one addict in the family. The magnitude of this problem has been depicted elaborately in films like Udta Punjab. Drug smuggling from neighbouring countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is the prime reason for spreading this menace along the length and breadth of Punjab. The geographical proximity of Punjab to the border area makes it an easiest route for smuggling. However, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc., are also in the risk zone. The decisive initiative by the Government of India to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution have indubitably turned Pakistan furious.
Further, the capture of power in Afghanistan by the medieval-minded Taliban has also boosted its spirits. The relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban is that of hand and glove. Of late, Pakistan has changed its strategy to revive the dying terrorism in India, and it now focuses on spreading fear and instability by the targeted killing of civilians instead of targeting security forces. It has increased the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and counterfeit currency across the borders to accomplish this goal. Drones equipped with highly developed and state-of-the-art Chinese technology having a range of up to 50 km have been used for these purposes. This undoubtedly is the biggest threat to the future of the country's youth and national unity and integrity. Thus, it is imperative to stop Pakistan-run bootlegging of narcotics, weapons and counterfeit notes. Also, in the states like West Bengal and Assam, there are incidents of infiltration in large numbers from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Many politicians and many state governments have patronized smuggling and infiltration. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and State Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu accused the previous Badal government of harbouring smuggling in Punjab. The reference to former Finance Minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia as the kingpin of smugglers by Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi (while speaking on the above resolutions in the Legislative Assembly) was not a mere coincidence.
This is rather the perception of the general public of Punjab. Majithia is the brother of former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur and brother-in-law of Akali Dal (Badal) president Sukhbir Singh Badal. Police and public order are state subjects, so the biggest issue plaguing Police to take strong action against illegal activities in the state is the local pressure and political interference. Knowingly or unknowingly, their hands are tied and their eyes blinded. Local and foreign players involved in nefarious activities operate swiftly under political patronage. In such a situation, the increase in the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force becomes inevitable.
This notification issued by the Central Government has also established uniformity in the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force. Earlier, the Border Security Force jurisdiction was limited to 15 km from the International Border in Punjab, Assam, West Bengal, 50 km in Rajasthan, 80 km in Gujarat, and the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir and North-East states. Now in Punjab, Assam, West Bengal, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Border Security Force's jurisdiction has been uninformed to 50 km from the border area, whereas in the states of Jammu and Kashmir and North-East it has been kept as it is. Under section 139 of this Act, the Border Security Force can only conduct search, seizure and arrest, within its jurisdiction.
Only the State Police has the right to register FIR and prosecute. As per the above jurisdiction of the BSF, law and order remain under the control of the State machinery. Therefore, the allegation of curbing powers of the police or encroachment on its jurisdiction are baseless. The security forces will be instrumental and cooperate with the state police to curb illegal cross-border activities. With this initiative of the Central Government, the workload on the State Police will also be reduced intangibly, and their efficiency will enhance significantly. By devoting full attention to law and order, it will be easier for them to maintain peace and tranquillity in the state.
Opposition parties should refrain from compromising national security and contempt of the Constitutional machinery to bake political bread and harness vote bank. Instead, they should focus on imperative issues to garner the people's trust and get their votes. The Centre should not spring more surprises – thorough consultations always help. It should also exercise all precautions to avoid Centre-State confrontation and politics of propaganda.