Punjab Chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu attacked the Centre government on Monday on the issue of expanding the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) in Punjab. Mr Channi called it an “infringement on federalism”, while Mr Sidhu accused the union government of weakening the federal structure by “creating a state within a state”.
The state CM alleged that he had sought an appointment from Prime Minister Narendra Modi but “never received a response”. The two leaders were speaking at an all-party meeting chaired by Mr Channi on Monday. Representatives from all state parties except the BJP, including Shiromani Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party, and Lok Insaaf Party attended the meeting.
A resolution was passed in the all-party meeting saying they rejected the Centre’s order on BSF jurisdiction. The CM said that a special session of the state assembly would be held on the issue in 10-15 days if the Centre didn’t respond, and the state would also approach the Supreme Court if their concerns on the issue were not acknowledged. The meeting also touched upon the contentious farm laws that have seen prolonged protests by farmers. “In the assembly session, we will yet again pass a resolution rejecting the three farm laws passed by the Centre,” the CM said.
Press conference at Punjab Bhawan after all party meeting.
— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) October 25, 2021
Mr Sidhu attacked the union government, accusing it of “substituting” the state police instead of creating coordination between the state police and the BSF. “It’s a political game. I am questioning the timing of the decision. Where is the state’s consent?” he said. He further alleged that central institutions were being politicised and chief ministers being arm-twisted by the Centre.
The Punjab Congress chief also took a dig at former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who had welcomed the move immediately after it was announced. “The Centre is creating Jai Chands (read traitor) in the state,” he said in what is being seen as an attack on Mr Singh. “Who was receiving ED notices? Who was being arm-twisted and who danced to Centre’s tunes/ Everyone knows who is the Jaichand here,” he added.
Citing a recent spike in cases of drone droppings of weapons from across the border, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had expanded the BSF’s jurisdiction earlier this month. The security force personnel will now have the power to arrest, search, and seizure to the extent of 50 km inside three new states – West Bengal, Punjab, and Assam – sharing international boundaries with Pakistan and Bangladesh. Earlier, this range was 15 Km.
This move had quickly snowballed into a politically charged debate on state autonomy, with the Punjab CM and many other leaders protesting strongly against it. “I strongly condemn the government’s unilateral decision to give additional powers to BSF within 50 km belt running along the international borders, which is a direct attack on the federalism. I urge the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to immediately roll back this irrational decision,” Charanjit Singh Channi had tweeted then.
Mr Sidhu also alleged that the BSF “daily violated” the constitutional provision of the country in the name of security in West Bengal and “there is a possibility that instances of torture, false cases, arbitrary detention and illegal arrests would happen in Punjab too”.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee also spoke against the expansion of jurisdiction for the BSF. “Just like Punjab, we’re also protesting against BSF’s jurisdiction that has been recently increased. Our border areas are completely peaceful. Law & order is a Police subject. It’ll create disturbance. State govt will go with state laws,” news agency ANI reported her saying in Siliguri on Monday.