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Supreme Court Clarifies BSF Jurisdiction in Punjab

Context:

In a recent development, the Supreme Court clarified that the Centre’s 2021 notification, which extended the Border Security Force’s (BSF) jurisdiction in Punjab from 15 to 50 km, allows the BSF to act concurrently to prevent specific offenses within these limits. However, it does not diminish the investigative authority of the state police. This clarification comes in response to a legal challenge by the Punjab government against the Centre’s decision to expand the BSF’s jurisdiction.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the BSF
  2. Centre’s Notification on BSF’s Jurisdiction Extension
  3. Different Issues in the Extension of Jurisdiction
  4. Constitutional Viewpoint on Deployment of Armed Forces in States

About the BSF

  • The Border Security Force (BSF) was established in 1965, following the India-Pakistan war.
  • It is one of the seven Central Armed Police Forces of India and operates under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • The other Central Armed Police Forces include the Assam Rifles (AR), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), National Security Guards (NSG), and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
  • The BSF, with a strength of approximately 2.65 lakhs, is deployed along the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • It is responsible for guarding the Indo-Pakistan International Border, Indo-Bangladesh International Border, and the Line of Control (LoC) in coordination with the Indian Army. The BSF also plays a role in anti-Naxal operations.
  • Additionally, the BSF is responsible for defending areas like Sir Creek in the Arabian Sea and the Sundarban delta in the Bay of Bengal, using a modern fleet of watercraft.
  • The BSF also contributes a substantial contingent of trained personnel to UN peacekeeping missions on an annual basis.

Centre’s Notification on BSF’s Jurisdiction Extension

Notification Replacing Previous Order:
  • The Centre has issued a new notification to extend the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF), replacing a 2014 order under the BSF Act, 1968.
  • The previous order covered states like Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, and Meghalaya.
  • The new notification also explicitly mentions the two newly created Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh, along with Assam, West Bengal, and Punjab.
Violations Under BSF’s Purview:

The BSF is empowered to carry out search and seizure operations for various violations, including:

  • Smuggling of narcotics and other prohibited items.
  • Illegal entry of foreigners.
  • Offenses punishable under other Central Acts, among others.
Handling of Suspects and Detained Individuals:
  • After the BSF detains a suspect or seizes a consignment within its specified area of jurisdiction, it is authorized to conduct “preliminary questioning.”
  • However, the BSF is required to hand over the suspect to the local police within 24 hours.
  • It’s important to note that the BSF does not possess the authority to prosecute crime suspects.
Special Powers of BSF:
  • The BSF Act, 1968, grants the BSF special powers in border states, allowing for the extension of its jurisdiction concerning offenses.
  • The extent of this jurisdiction has evolved over the years; for instance, Gujarat had an 80-kilometer jurisdiction since 1969.
  • Currently, this jurisdiction has been standardized to 50 kilometers.
  • This means that the BSF also has jurisdiction over certain offenses under laws like the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and Passport Act, 1967.
  • Local police authorities retain their jurisdiction alongside the concurrent jurisdiction granted to the BSF.

Different Issues in the Extension of Jurisdiction

Division of Responsibilities:

  • Public order and policing, which encompass maintaining public peace, safety, and tranquility, are primarily the responsibilities of State Governments, as indicated in Entry 1 and Entry 2 of the State list, respectively.

Concern for National Security:

  • However, when a situation of serious public disorder arises, threatening the security or defense of the State or the country itself (as per Entry 1 of the Union list), it becomes a matter of concern for the Union Government.

Encroachment on State Powers:

  • The extension of jurisdiction by the Union Government without obtaining the concurrence of the state government may be viewed as encroachment on the powers of the states.

Punjab’s Perspective:

  • In the case of Punjab, the state government has asserted that this notification represents the Centre’s encroachment under the guise of security or development.

Policing Roles:

  • Policing in the hinterland, which is not the primary role of a border guarding force like the BSF, could potentially weaken the capacity of the BSF in fulfilling its primary duty of guarding the international border.
Issues Specific to Punjab:
  • For a 50-kilometer jurisdiction, the BSF would have concurrent powers, along with the state police, to handle all cognizable offenses under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • In Punjab, extending the jurisdiction from 15 to 50 kilometers encompasses all major cities, raising concerns about the impact on policing and governance.
  • In contrast, states like Gujarat, with substantial marshland, and Rajasthan, with vast desert areas, may have different considerations due to the geographical layout.

Constitutional Viewpoint on Deployment of Armed Forces in States

  • Article 355 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Centre to deploy its armed forces to protect a state against “external aggression and internal disturbance,” even when the concerned state does not request the Centre’s assistance and is unwilling to receive central forces.
  • In situations where a state opposes the deployment of the Union’s armed forces, the appropriate course of action for the Centre is to issue directives to the concerned state under Article 355.
  • If the state fails to comply with the Central government’s directive, the Centre can take further action under Article 356, which deals with the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

-Source: The Hindu


February 2024
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