Jurisdiction Enhancement of BSF
25th Oct, 2021
Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a notification to widen the jurisdiction of Border Security Force (BSF) for seizure, search and arrest up to 50km from the international border in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab.
About Border Security Force (BSF)
- The Border Security Force (BSF) was raised in the wake of the 1965 War on 1 December 1965 for ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith.
- The BSF is India’s border guarding organization on its border with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
- It is one of the seven Central Armed Police Forces of the Union of India under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
- Assam Rifles (AR)
- Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)
- Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)
- Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)
- National Security Guards (NSG)
- Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)
- Other Central Armed Police Forces are:
- Deployment: The 2.65-lakh force is deployed along the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders.
- It is deployed on Indo-Pakistan International Border, Indo-Bangladesh International Border, Line of Control (LoC) along with Indian Army and in Anti-Naxal Operations.
- Units: It has an air wing, marine wing, an artillery regiment, and commando units.
- BSF has been defending Sir Creek in Arabian Sea and Sundarban delta in the Bay of Bengal with its state of art fleet of Water Crafts.
- BSF has an instrumental role in helping state administration in maintaining Law and Order and conducting peaceful elections.
- BSF has been crusading against natural calamity to save precious human lives as and when warranted.
- It contributes dedicated services to the UN peacekeeping Mission by sending a large contingent of its trained manpower every year.
- It has been termed as the First Line of Defence of Indian Territories.
- The BSF has its own cadre of officers but its head, designated as a Director-General (DG), since its raising has been an officer from the Indian Police Service (IPS).
Jurisdictional Limitation under the Border Security Force Act, 1968
- A notification issued in 2014 had outlined BSF's jurisdiction as the whole of the area comprised in the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and so much of the area comprised within a belt of:
- 80 kilometres in the State of Gujarat
- 50 kilometres in the State of Rajasthan
- 15 kilometres in the States of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India
What is in the latest order?
- This notification replaces a 2014 order under the Border Security Force Act of 1968, which also covered the States of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.
- It also specifically mentions the two newly created Union Territories- J&K and Ladakh.
- The 2021 notification amends the 2014 notification and extends the jurisdiction of the BSF up to 50 km inside the international borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. Earlier, the BSF's powers were limited to up to 15 km in these states.
- The jurisdictional limit with respect to the state of Gujarat has been reduced from 80kms to 50 kms.
- The violations for which the BSF carries out search and seizure include smuggling of narcotics, other prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners and offences punishable under any other Central Act among others.
- After a suspect has been detained or a consignment seized within the specified area, the BSF can only conduct “preliminary questioning” and has to hand over the suspect to the local police within 24 hours.
- The BSF does not have the powers to prosecute crime suspects.
What is actually means?
- As per the new notification, BSF officers will be able to conduct arrests and searches in West Bengal, Punjab, and Assam.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC),
- The Passport Act 1967, and
- The Passport (Entry to India) Act 1920.
- BSF has got the right to take this action under:
- The BSF will have the powers of search, seizure, and arrest under Acts like Passport Act, NDPS Act, and Customs Act.
- Its jurisdiction under these laws has not been changed, meaning its powers under these will continue to be only up to 15 km inside the border in Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, and will remain as far as 80 km in Gujarat.
- The new notification also empowers an officer of the rank corresponding to that of the lowest ranking member of the BSF, under the CrPC, to exercise and discharge the powers and duties without an order from a Magistrate, and without a warrant.
- The officer is now empowered to arrest any person who has been concerned in any cognisable offense, or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received.
- A BSF officer has now been given the power to conduct a search of a place entered by a person sought to be arrested in its new area of jurisdiction.
Powers exercised by BSF in its jurisdiction
- Section 139 (BSF Act, 1968): It empowers the Center to notify from time to time the area and extent of operation of the Border Security Force.
- Under the BSF Act, Section 139 (ii) gives sweeping powers of arrest to BSF.
- It has powers of preventive arrest under Section 139 (1) & post offence arrest under section 139 (ii).
- No mention of consultation with local police.
- Public Order vs Security of State: Public order, which connotes public peace, safety and tranquility, is primarily the responsibility of a State Government (Entry 1, State list).
- However, when there is a serious public disorder which threatens the security or defence of the State or of the country itself (entry 1 of Union list), the situation becomes a matter of concern for the Union Government also.
- Weakening Spirit of Federalism: Without obtaining the concurrence of the state government, the notification amounts to encroachment on the powers of the states.
- The Punjab Government has asserted that this notification is Centre’s encroachment under the guise of security or development.
- Affecting Functioning of BSF: Policing in the hinterland is not the role of a border guarding force, rather it would weaken the capacity of the Border Security Force in discharging its primary duty of guarding the international border.
Constitutional Viewpoint on Deployment of Armed forces in States
- Under Article 355, the Centre can deploy its forces to protect a state against “external aggression and internal disturbance,” even when the state concerned does not requisition the Centre’s assistance and is reluctant to receive central forces.
- In the case of a state’s opposition to the deployment of armed forces of the Union, the right course for the Centre is to first issue directives under Article 355 to the state concerned.
- In the event of the state not complying with the directive of the Central government, the Centre can take further action under Article 356 (President’s Rule).
Sanctions behind such powers
- Scarcely populated borders: At that time, border areas were sparsely populated and there were hardly any police stations for miles.
- Trans-border crimes: To prevent trans-border crimes, it was felt necessary that BSF be given powers to arrest.
- Manpower crunch: While police stations have now come up near the border, they continue to be short-staffed.
Why has the government extended the jurisdiction?
- Uniformity & Efficiency: The move is to bring in uniformity and also to increase operational efficiency.
- Quick Response: BSF often gets information relating to crime scenes that may be out of their jurisdiction. It is done to make the response swift and effective in such cases.
- Increasing Incidents on Borders: The move was also necessitated due to increasing instances of drones dropping weapons and drugs in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.
- Providing More Powers: BSF’s jurisdiction has not been increased under the Arms Act, Customs Act and NDPS Act, which cover most of the smuggling offences on the border and deal with far greater offences. Separate arrangements are made to make BSF independent in its action.
Impact on State Police jurisdiction
- This move will complement the efforts of the local police. Thus, it is an enabling provision.
- It’s not that the local police can’t act within the jurisdiction of the BSF.
- The state police have better knowledge of the ground. Hence BSF and local Police can act in cooperation.
This amendment is a welcome step as it will bring in uniformity for BSF’s operations in the border state. Not only uniformity, it will also enable improved operational effectiveness in curbing trans-border crimes.