In All-Party Meet, Punjab Decides to Repeal Farm Laws, Centre's BSF Jurisdiction Move

All parties, except BJP who boycotted the meeting, passed a resolution, saying the farm laws and the Centre’s BSF move is a scathing attack on federalism and the spirit of the constitution.

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Chandigarh: After chairing an all party meeting on Monday, October 25, Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi announced a special Vidhan Sabha session in the next 10 days to repeal the Union government’s controversial farm laws and October 11 notification enhancing the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force in the state.

“Two resolutions were passed today in all-party meetings in which it was unanimously decided to repeal the farm laws as well as Centre’s BSF jurisdiction enhancement move. All were of the view that both these moves were a clear attempt by the Modi government at the Centre to usurp state autonomy for ulterior political motives,” Channi told the media after the all party meetings at Punjab Bhawan here in sector 3.

All major political parties in the state including Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party were part of the meet. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) boycotted it.

This is the second time that the Punjab Vidhan Sabha will take up the centre’s controversial farm laws. Earlier Punjab Vidhan Sabha passed amendments to the Central acts, legalising Minimum Support Price in farmer purchase both in and outside mandis.

However these acts did not not see the light of the day. The then Punjab governor V.P. Singh Badnore did not forward them to the President of India for ratification.

This time, Punjab political parties are planning to put a permanent cap on the implementation of farm laws in Punjab by repealing it through a special Punjab session.

Vidhan Sabha, as Channi said, will also repeal the Union government’s latest notification amending in the BSF (Border Security Force) Act. With the amendments, the Union government has authorised the para-military forces to undertake search, seizure and arrest operations within a larger 50-km stretch, instead of the existing 15 kms, from the international borders in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam.

Also read: Changes in BSF Law to Bring One-Third Area in West Bengal Under Central Agency

Channi declared that the state is well within its rights to protect the interest of its people but whether the Punjab assembly’s move will be legally sustainable remains to be seen.

In 2004, Punjab enacted the controversial Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act of 2004 in order to terminate an old agreement to share water of Punjab rivers with neighbouring states, which. later in 2016, was declared illegal by the Supreme Court.

File photo of BSF jawans patrolling. Photo: PTI

Ready to move SC, launch Satyagraha

Channi said that Punjab is prepared to approach the apex court if needed to deal with any legal eventuality after the Vidhan Sabha session.

“Today’s message in the all-party meetings was clear – all parties will fight together in the fight to save Punjab. We will also take up the matter with other affected states, including West Bengal, to prepare a larger battle at the national level,” said Channi, adding that all his ministers and he himself is ready to “sacrifice anything for Punjab and its rights.”

Channi also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Friday, October 22, seeking a status quo ante on the BSF jurisdiction.

Channi had said that Punjab shares around 425 km of international border with Pakistan, and more than 80% of total area of the border districts, including Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Fazilka, fall within the 50 km radius from the Indo-Pakistan international border.

With the notification, all of Punjab’s major border cities and towns will be fully under Central control, in what is being seen as a clear violation of state’s rights.

Channi told the media that the state was not consulted in any manner before the notification was issued.

He reiterated that the Modi government’s move was an “authoritarian decision” and said the people of Punjab were greatly offended by this “anti-democratic and anti-federal decision”.

The chief minister also told the media that since the law and order was a state subject, the Union government had no business to thrust its decision on Punjab without taking the people of the state into confidence.

He categorically said that his government was fully competent to handle law and order situation across the state with its own police force. He also referred to the state police force’s experience in containing decade-long militancy in the state and restoring long-lasting peace, harmony and brotherhood.

Centre creating ‘a state within a state’

Sitting by Channi’s side, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has yet not officially taken back his resignation as Punjab Congress chief, questioned the “paradox” of the BSF’s full form, Border Security Force. “What is the definition of a border…50 kms? Centre is weakening the country’s federal structure, by creating “a state within a state,” said Sidhu.

Also read: Why Amit Shah’s Decision to Expand Definition of ‘Border Area’ for BSF Defies Logic

This is a political move by the BJP to scuttle elections and camouflage their weak political position in Punjab, Sidhu also sai. “After CBI, ED and various other institutions, now BJP will use the BSF to interfere with the autonomy of states ruled by opposition parties,” said Sidhu.

He added, “As BJP can never win Punjab, it is creating unrest, so that peaceful elections don’t happen in Punjab. As no one will vote for BJP in Punjab, therefore they are using BSF and Central forces to rule Punjab, and bring a President’s rule-like situation.”

Sidhu asked why this was happening just two months before elections, and not in the last 4.5 years? “This is to scuttle the electoral process which is the centrifugal force of any democracy. You want control on flimsy grounds when you don’t have any political support but only public hate.”

Sidhu also alleged that in West Bengal, the BSF daily violates the constitutional provision of the country in the name of security and there is a possibility that the instances of torture, false cases, arbitrary detention and illegal arrests would happen in Punjab too.

“West Bengal government, in the last five years had lodged a total of 240 cases accusing the BSF of extra-judicial torture, 60 cases of extrajudicial execution and eight cases of forced disappearance. In of these 33 cases, the National Human Rights Commission  has recommended compensation to the victims or to their next of kin,” said Sidhu

He added. “There are a number of cases in Bengal where BSF did not inform local police after firing incidents. There is no guarantee that a detained person will be handed over by BSF to local police in 24 hours. UP police illegally detained Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for more than 60 hours without any valid reason. Who takes guarantee of a common man if BSF detains him.”

Congress workers protest outside the 2nd Battalion PAC in Sitapur where Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was allegedly detained on her way to Lakhimpur Kheri. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Meanwhile, Ashwani Sharma, state BJP chief tweeted to back the Union government’s BSF notification, saying that it has been brought to “prevent cross border smuggling and terrorist activities, which were on the rise in Punjab.”

“BSF security enhancement would end smuggling,” he added

Former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who recently announced his own party, has been found to be on the side of the Punjab unit of the BJP when he endorsed the BSF decision, quite in contrast to the stand of the Punjab government. Singh has not reacted to the all-party meeting’s resolution

SAD bats for special assembly session, makes dig at Congress

After the meeting, SAD batted for the special assembly session but the party delegation, including Prem Singh Chandumajra and Daljit Singh Cheema, also asked the Congress government to set its own house in order. The delegation members pointed out that Captain Singh had supported the extension of the jurisdiction of the BSF.

“So did Amritsar MP Gurjit Singh Aujla and minister Rana Gurjit Singh,” the SAD members said.

The delegation also asked CM Channi to clarify what transpired at his meeting with Union home minister Amit Shah as there were apprehensions in the minds of Punjabis that he had agreed to the move and only then was it announced by the Union government.

It also pointed out that former PCC President Sunil Jakhar had also accused the chief minister of handing over half of Punjab to the centre. Chandumajra later said that the chief minister had failed to convince the meeting that he had not colluded with the Centre and agreed to extension of central jurisdiction in Punjab.

Chandumajra, however, appreciated all the parties for raising the need to strengthen the federal system. He said it was the SAD which had always fought for retaining the federal character of the country as espoused in the constitution.

“We even had to fight the entire system but continued to raise this demand. Today our demand stands vindicated with all parties raising the same issue. The centre has been eroding the federal character of the country by compromising the riparian principle, denying Punjab its capital and Punjabi speaking areas, directly interfering in agriculture which is a state subject and now in policing which is also the duty of the state”.

Daljit Cheema, who questioned the rationale behind the BSF move, also raised the issue of tweets by PCC president Navjot Sidhu’s strategic advisor Mohammad Mustafa in which it was claimed that “an ISI agent had been running the Home Ministry during Captain Singh’s tenure as chief minister.”

He said the present Punjab home minister Sukhjinder Randhawa had also tweeted to this effect before deleting that tweet.

Cheema also asked the chief minister to set his house in order, saying the state would be embarrassed if it is hauled up by the centre about its state of affairs at a time when it was fighting for its rights.