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Demographic balance upset in border states: BSF DG on 50-km rule

Rejecting allegations that the October notification of the Union home ministry interfered with local policing, Pankaj Kumar Singh said that the BSF was not trying to "act as a parallel police" and the powers to investigate and file charge sheets continue to remain with the state.

Written by Mahender Singh Manral | New Delhi |
Updated: December 1, 2021 11:13:50 am
BSF director general (DG) Pankaj Kumar Singh. (ANI)

WITH Opposition-ruled governments questioning the extension of the BSF jurisdiction to 50 km inside the international border, the Director General of the paramilitary force, Pankaj Kumar Singh, Tuesday said the probable reason for the Centre’s decision was that “the demographic balance has been upset in border states like West Bengal and Assam over a period of time”. He said a survey done by the BSF (Border Security Force) pointed to “a definite democratic change”.

At the annual press conference of the BSF, Singh said: “Over a period of time, you must have observed that whether it is Assam or West Bengal, the demographic balance has been upset to a great degree… It has changed for whatever reasons. It has changed and there have been agitations in certain states and there have been many revolts because of these reasons… Even the voter pattern has changed in certain districts neighbouring borders. So, the government probably thought that, in its vision, the BSF jurisdiction was changed from 15 km to 50 km, and maybe now it can help and support and supplement the state police in catching the infiltrators.”

He added: “The force has done a survey in some border villages that found that there is a definite demographic change.”


Political row over move

The BSF Director General’s reasoning for the extension of the force’s jurisdiction along the borders comes amidst Opposition-ruled governments protesting against the move as an attack on federalism.

The BSF DG reiterated that the force was not trying to act as a parallel police, and that the powers to investigate and file chargesheets would remain with the state police. “There is no problem at all, we work in tandem with the local police. The notification, issued by the Central government, was essentially in the context of the Passports Act and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, with the earlier dealing with people going out of the country and the latter with people entering the country. The government standardised a 50-km region from the border in all border states manned by the BSF so that the forces could easily move from one theatre to the other,” Singh said.

In an interview to the AIR, tweeted by the BSF, the DG said the extension of the jurisdiction was “only” with regard to infiltrators — “I wouldn’t call them just refugees,” he said — and to strengthen the hands of the local police, and that there should be no apprehensions regarding that. He also said that apart from the Passports Act and Passport (Entry Into India Act), which deal with people illegally crossing the country’s borders, under the Arms Act, not just the paramilitary force but six-seven other forces had powers to take action anywhere within the country. Singh also said there had been “large-scale” infiltration into India, which had also resulted in the Assam agitation.

In a gazette notification on October 11, the Ministry of Home Affairs had announced that it was amending a notification of 2014 regarding the BSF jurisdiction along borders where it was deployed. It outlined the new jurisdiction as “whole of the area comprised in the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and so much of the area comprised within a belt of fifty kilometres in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”. Earlier, its jurisdiction covered “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 eighty kilometres in the state of Gujarat, fifty kilometres in the state of Rajasthan and fifteen kilometres in the states of Punjab, West Bengal and Assam, running along the borders of India”.

The state Assemblies in Opposition-ruled Punjab and West Bengal have passed resolutions against the Centre’s decision. Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi called it “a direct attack on federalism”, while West Bengal Transport Minister Firhad Hakim accused the Centre of “trying to interfere through Central agencies” in law and order, which is a state subject.

Singh said the amendment of the area under BSF jurisdiction would help the force and state police “in effectively curbing trans-border crimes like smuggling of narcotics and weapons”. He said implementing it was a step-by-step process, from identifying the 50-km covered parts to whether new posts were needed there.

About the threat posed by the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, Singh said it was clear that they had access to weapons, ammunition, helicopters, planes etc. “Pakistan may exploit Taliban fighters and try to send them to India. We have alerted troops deployed at the borders,” the DG said.

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