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Border Security Force (BSF) and issues of operational Jurisdiction

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Border and its management, security forces


Source: TH

 Context: Punjab has filed a suit challenging the central government’s decision to increase the BSF’s operational jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km, considering it a breach of federal principles and an encroachment into state law and order powers. West Bengal shares a similar view.


What is the Special Powers of BSF?

In all border states, there is a power under the BSF Act,1968 to extend the jurisdiction of BSF so far as offences are considered. Different states have different jurisdiction limits. E.g., Gujarat had 80 km, but in some states, it was less (e.g., 15km in Punjab). Now (by the Central Government 2021 notification) it has been made uniform 50 kms.


BSF has concurrent power with state police/agencies with regard to some offences under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and Passport Act, 1967 etc.


The procedure:

The BSF conducts search and seizure for violations such as smuggling narcotics, prohibited items, illegal entry of foreigners, and offences under Central Acts. After detaining a suspect or seizing a consignment in the specified area, the BSF can only perform “preliminary questioning” and must hand over the suspect to local police within 24 hours. The BSF lacks the authority to prosecute crime suspects.


What is the Issue?

In 2021, the Punjab government moved the Supreme Court (under Article 131) challenging the Centre’s decision that expanded the BSF’s jurisdiction from 15 to 50km.

It alleged a breach of federal principles and encroachment into the state’s law and order powers.

Note: Article 131 vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over disputes occurring between states or between states and the Centre.


What has SC said?

The Supreme Court clarified that the 2021 notification expanding BSF’s jurisdiction in Punjab from 15 to 50 km grants concurrent authority for preventing specific offences but does not diminish the investigative authority of the state police.


What does the Constitution Say?

Under Article 355, the Centre can deploy forces to protect a state from external aggression or internal disturbance, even without the state’s request. If a state opposes deployment, the Centre can issue directives under Article 355. If the state doesn’t comply, the Centre can take further action under Article 356 (President’s Rule).


Issues with the Centre’s extension of BSF’s jurisdiction:

Public Order vs Security of StateThe responsibility for public order and police rests with the State Government.
Weakening Spirit of FederalismThe notification without state government concurrence is seen as an encroachment on state powers. The Punjab Government views it as an encroachment under the guise of security or development
Affecting Functioning of BSFPolicing in the hinterland weakens BSF’s capacity to fulfil its primary duty of guarding the international border.
Issues Specific to PunjabThe extension covers major cities in a relatively small state like Punjab. In contrast, states like Gujarat and Rajasthan have specific geographical features (marshland and desert, respectively) that may justify the extension.


Arguments from the Central Government 

  1. Enhanced Border Security:The increase to 50 km is justified to improve border patrol effectiveness.
  2. Standardizing Operations:The expansion aims to unify the operational area across different states for consistency.


The way forward involves:

  1. Desirable State Consent: The Union Government should consult the State Government before deploying armed forces, whenever possible.
  2. State Self-Reliance: Each State Government, in consultation with the Union Government, should develop short-term and long-term plans to strengthen its Armed Police.
  3. Regional Arrangements: Neighbouring States can establish a standing arrangement, agreed upon by consensus, for using each other’s Armed Police in times of need. Zonal Councils provide a suitable forum for States within a zone to reach such agreements.


About Border Security Force (BSF): 

The Border Security Force (BSF), established in 1965 following the India-Pakistan war, is a significant component of India’s security apparatus. Operating under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, it is one of the seven Central Armed Police Forces. With a force strength of over 2 lakhs, it is primarily deployed along the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders, managing security on the Indo-Pakistan International Border, Indo-Bangladesh International Border, and Line of Control (LoC) in coordination with the Indian Army


Role of the Border Security Force (BSF) in dealing with illegal migration and cross-border crimes.

  • Defending the porous borders: BSF has been defending Sir Creek in the Arabian Sea and Sundarbans Delta in the Bay of Bengal with its state-of-the-art fleet of Water Crafts.
  • Cooperating with local police: most of the raids and arrests that are conducted are in close coordination and cooperation with the local police.
    • Police do act against any smuggler or criminal if the BSF provides irrefutable evidence.
  • The First Line of Defence: It has been termed the First Line of Defence of Indian Territories because of the role played by it in dealing with illegal migration from the eastern border and tackling cross-border crimes.
  • Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System: has vastly improved the capability of the Border Security Force (BSF) in detecting and controlling cross-border crimes like illegal infiltration, smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking and cross-border terrorism, etc.
  • BSF and internal security duties: While border protection has been the primary duty of BSF, it has also been deployed for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in troubled areas of the country like J&K, NE states and Naxal-hit areas.
  • Trans-border crimes: BSF was given powers way back in 1969 under the Indian Passport Act, Customs Act Arms Act, NPSD Act, and CrPC to arrest, search and seize a person, vessel or premises so it can effectively deal with trans-border crimes which have a bearing on national security in larger areas of the bordering states.
    • For instance, the smuggling of narcotics, arms and ammunition, fake currency and other contraband items on the western and eastern borders of the country.
  • Gathering information: The BSF does not have the responsibility only to apprehend the offenders while committing trans-border crimes at the zero line,
    • but also to gather information to neutralize the network and accomplices operating from their side of the area, independently as well as with the help of local police.


Challenges before BSF in dealing with illegal migration and cross-border crimes:

  • Porous border—along the India-Bangladesh border, from Sunderbans in the south to Malda in the north, and is the most porous stretch of India’s borders in the entire eastern theatre making it complex to manage.
  • Challenges on both our eastern and western borders have grown many folds in the last four decades despite the increased presence of BSF units, the erection of a border fence and the use of modern technologies.
  • Trans-border crimes are no longer confined to petty smuggling of few eatables or locally produced consumable items; pushing in of narcotics, arms and fake currency into India and large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals and Rohingyas pose a serious threat to our security and economy.
  • Increased connectivity and communication: As connectivity, communication and mobility have increased, trans-border criminals have the advantage of operating from deeper areas.
    • Most of the time BSF operates in close coordination with the local police, but this delays the operational functioning of BSF.
  • Wider outreach of criminals: While BSF is responsible for preventing trans-border crimes, the sphere of action of these criminals expands to the hinterlands.
    • In places like West Bengal, the trans-border criminals were cleverly operating from areas beyond the jurisdiction of BSF.


Conclusion and opinion

Thus, BSF needs to overcome these challenges and further strengthen its border domination against the threats from underground tunnels or enhanced threats by the use of drones or other methods. The added responsibility will require better-coordinated efforts at every level.


Insta Links:

  1. Illegal immigration in India’s northern and eastern borders


Mains Links:

Analyze the multidimensional challenges posed by external state and non-state actors, to the internal security of India. Also, discuss measures required to be taken to combat these threats. (UPSC 2021)


Prelims Links:

Department of Border Management is a Department of which one of the following Union Ministries? (UPSC 2008)

(a) Ministry of Defence
(b) Ministry of Home Affairs
(c) Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways
(d) Ministry of Environment and Forests


Ans: B