NCP chief Sharad Pawar said Saturday he would meet Home Minister Amit Shah “to know his thoughts about” the extension of operational jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, or BSF, within Indian territories in the states of Assam, Punjab, and Bengal.
“I will be meeting Home Minister Amit Shah to know his thoughts about it,” he was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
Earlier this week the Home Ministry said the BSF could operate up to 50 km from the international border in the above three states; previously this was 15 km.
The new order has proven controversial since it means the BSF can search and make arrests within a wider area in each state, giving them powers on par with local police. In Punjab this means the Golden Temple at Amritsar, for example, now comes under their jurisdiction too; it is 35 km from the border.
The centre has said it will help maintain a “zero tolerance” stance against terrorism and cross-border crimes.
However, the Congress – in power in Punjab, and where elections are due next year – has cried foul and alleged a “conspiracy”, accusing the BJP government at the centre of destroying the country’s federal structure.
Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala has questioned the timing of the order, claiming it is meant to deflect attention from heroin seized in Gujarat’s Adani-run Mundra Port.
The order has also triggered a row within the ranks of Punjab’s ruling Congress, with ex state chief Sunil Jakhar taking a pot shot at new Chief Minister Charanjit Channi.
The order came a week after Mr Channi met Amit Shah and asked for help in sealing the state’s border with Pakistan, across which weapons and drugs are smuggled into India.
“Be careful what you ask for! Has Charanjit Channi unwittingly managed to hand over half of Punjab to the central government? 25,000 square km (out of total 50,000 square km) has now been placed under BSF jurisdiction. Punjab Police stands castigated. Do we still want more autonomy to states,” he said.
Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa hit back: “He (Mr Channi) appealed to check drug and arms supply. Jakhar-sahab and I are both residents of a border area; he should not have tweeted this.”
The centre’s move has also drawn criticism from former allies Akali Dal, for whom former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the BJP was “trying to turn Punjab into a Union Territory through the back door by handing it over to central security forces”.
The Aam Aadmi Party, currently the principal opposition in Punjab, has also hit out; spokesperson Raghav Chadha said the Congress had “surrendered” half of Punjab.
The move has also been criticised by the Bengal government, where Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh called it “an infringement on the rights of the state”.
“If the BSF has to conduct any search, they can always do it along with the state police. This has been the practice for years. It is an attack on the federal structure,” he added.
The Assam government, controlled by the BJP after it retained power in April-May elections, has not commented on the Home Ministry’s order.
With input from ANI, PTI