Punjab on Saturday moved the Supreme Court against the centre’s extension of the Border Security Force’s (BSF) jurisdiction in three states from 15 km to 50 km from the international border
The Punjab government – the first to challenge the centre’s move to give the BSF more powers in the state, as well as in Assam and Bengal – called it an “attack on the federal structure” of the country,
Challenging the centre’s move under Article 131 of the Constitution, the Punjab government said the extension of BSF authority encroached on the constitutional jurisdiction of the states concerned.
“The impact of the centre’s decision will be on 80 per cent of the area of districts adjoining Pakistan… whereas the Constitution has placed the right to maintain law and order, and the police, in the ‘state list’. This right has been given to the state government,” the Punjab government said.
“But here, through this notification, jurisdiction of the states has been encroached upon,” it said.
The original suit further says the centre had not consulted the state before issuing its order.
The centre has been called to present its side of the story; the registrar issued a notice via the Attorney-General asking for a reply to be filed in 28 days after which the matter will be listed.
The Punjab government’s suit has been welcomed by the ruling Congress’ state chief, Navjot Sidhu.
“I congratulate Punjab and its legal team to be the 1st to approach the Hon’ble Supreme Court by filing an original suit challenging the notification extending the BSF jurisdiction,” he tweeted.
The cricketer-turned-politician – whose public and scathing attacks on his party have triggered a leadership crisis ahead of next year’s election, called it a “fight to retain principles”.
“The fight to retain principles embodied in the Constitution, i.e. to retain the federal structure and autonomy of the states, has begun. Notice issued to the centre to respond.”
In an October 11 notification the centre said BSF jurisdiction Punjab, Bengal, and Assam would henceforth include all areas within 50 km of the international border in each state.
Previously BSF had jurisdiction up to 15 km from the borders.
The new order means the BSF can carry out searches and make arrests within a wider area, setting up a potentially explosive situation in Punjab – a state where the BJP and Congress will go head-to-head in next year’s election.
The centre has dismissed concern over the BSF’s extended jurisdiction as “ill-founded”.
Junior Home Minister Nityanand Rai last month claimed it would result in better and more effective action against trans-border crimes, with the central force acting in cooperation with state police.
Before that the Punjab Assembly had passed a resolution against the BSF notification. The BJP’s sole two MLAs were absent, meaning the resolution was passed ‘unanimous’.
The Bengal Assembly soon after, underling the “attack on the federal structure” of India.
In Bengal, though, the BJP was vehement in its opposition of the resolution; “there is no question of conflict between the state police and the BSF”, Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said.
Assam, where the BJP is in power, has made no protest, formal or otherwise, in this matter.