The Golden Temple, located in the centre of Amritsar, is less than 32 km from the zero line — the international border between India and Pakistan.
The Union government has increased jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) from 15 km to 50 km inside the international border along Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. Most of the towns and cities on the Amritsar-Jalandhar highway in Majha region are now in the jurisdiction of the BSF, where it can conduct raids and arrest persons in connection with any infiltration bid along the border.
Cities like Gurdaspur, Batala, Pathankot and small towns on both sides of Amritsar- Pathankot highway have come within the BSF range, as per the Centre’s announcement.
It is not a surprise that most parts of Majha are now under the BSF jurisdiction. However, cities like Muktsar, Faridkot and many small towns on the Bathinda-Amritsar highway, which are not contiguous with the international border, too fall in this jurisdiction as per the Centre’s announcement.
Lambi, represented by former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, missed the jurisdiction by just a few kilometres.
Abohar and Fazilka will be in the jurisdiction of the BSF unlike Ganganagar in Rajasthan, which is almost equidistant from the border with Pakistan.
At least nine districts of Punjab (fully or partially) will be in the BSF ambit with the new orders.
Until now, most of BSF’s activities have remained limited to a few hundred meters to one kilometre from the Indo-Pak border.
In fact, former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh had written to the Centre in the past asking to increase BSF manpower on Pakistan border in Punjab so that gaps can be covered.
BSF and Punjab Police used to conduct joint operations in areas inside or across the fencing on border occasionally. There was, however, always a problem of lack of confidence and coordination between both the forces and many meetings used to be organised to streamline this.
Recently, Punjab Police became more active on the border with Pakistan after claiming that drones were being used on a large scale for smuggling weapons and drugs.
BSF was initially wary about such claims and would avoid making any statement on the recoveries claimed by the Punjab Police near the border, especially related to drones.
The sudden increase in jurisdiction of BSF is also considered setback for the Punjab Police, which was attempting to position itself more firmly on the India-Pak border.
Capt’s warning in 2016, and a SAD MLA’s word of caution to Modi
Amarinder Singh was quick to welcome the Centre’s decision. However he was not so positive towards the BSF back in 2016 when he was running an election campaign in the state.
“Our soldiers are being killed in Kashmir. We’re seeing more and more weapons and drugs being pushed by Pak-backed terrorists into Punjab. BSF’s enhanced presence and powers will only make us stronger. Let’s not drag central armed forces into politics,” Amarinder’s media advisor has tweeted on his behalf. But in March 2016, then Punjab Congress president Amarinder had alleged that there was a “nexus between the BSF and Pakistan Rangers personnel to facilitate drug smuggling”. He was speaking in the presence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Amritsar at the time.
Amarinder had said, “As Punjab CM, I had gone to then home minister L K Advani and told him to reduce the period of stay of BSF platoons on the Punjab border from two years to one year. But he said it was too expensive. I had told him that it was not more expensive than the lives of Punjabis. He, however, didn’t react. This period is still two years. The longer period of stay helps them evolve a nexus with Pak rangers to facilitate drug trade.”
Not just Captain Amarinder Singh, even the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has accused BSF for failing to stop drug smuggling.
In December 2014, then sitting SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha had written a strongly-worded letter against the BSF to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after listening to one of his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ episodes on the drug problem.
SAD was an alliance partner of the Modi government when Valtoha wrote the letter, in which he said, “I have been elected twice as MLA from Khemkaran (Punjab) and my constituency belongs to border area, 96 kms of border of my constituency touches Pakistan. To protect the borders, BSF has stationed three battalions at Khemkaran, Amarkot and Bhikhiwind in my constituency. Not only me but also the people of my constituency are aware of the activities, how the drugs are being smuggled into India with the help of bad elements active in the govt agencies. …I feel hurt to raise a finger on the bad elements in the BSF as well as government agencies in this sordid game of drug smuggling as some people from both these agencies are involved. The people of Punjab as well as people belonging to my constituency are totally convinced…that the bad elements i.e. from lower level up to a higher level, working within the government agencies as well as within the BSF personnel are making a lot of money from this drug smuggling.”
“I had written a similar letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2013 but nothing happened,” said Valtoha.