NEW DELHI: Congress may have slammed as “anti-federal” the home ministry’s decision to extend BSF’s powers of seizure, search and arrest to a 50 km belt running along the international border in West Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan, but in 2011, the then UPA government had gone a step further.
The UPA had brought a bill in Rajya Sabha seeking to arm BSF with powers to search, seize and arrest in any part of the country where it is deployed resulting in considerable opposition to the proposed move.
The opposition parties then led by BJP put up a stiff resistance citing federal concerns, forcing UPA to defer the Border Security Force (Amendment) Bill in March 2012. This was despite the department-related standing committee on home affairs, then chaired by M Venkaiah Naidu, having adopted the bill in November 2011 without any changes.
BJP-ruled states, including Gujarat where PM Narendra Modi was then CM, opposed the move. The proposal at the time was, however, more sweeping than the decision taken by the NDA government.
Then home minister P Chidambaram had, while seeking passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha in March 2012, underlined that BSF is regularly deployed in the hinterland “on request of the state governments” for duties ranging from internal security to countering Left wing extremism or northeast insurgency to tackling communal riots and natural calamities, even though its charter limited its mandate to border areas notified from time to time under Section 139 of the BSF Act, 1968.
He argued that an enabling provision was needed in the BSF Act to give the force powers to search, seize and arrest in the hinterland, so as to ensure its operational effectiveness. Chidambaram also highlighted that similar enabling provisions already existed in the Acts governing CRPF, ITBP and SSB.
Chidambaram informed the Rajya Sabha that only 13 of 29 states from which MHA had sought comments on the proposed bill, had reverted, with Sikkim being the lone state to oppose the bill. West Bengal had then supported arming BSF with powers of seizure, search and arrest for duties, while Punjab and Assam never turned in their comments despite MHA reminders.