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CHANDIGARH, (Gurpreet) Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Sunday slammed the central government for spreading misinformation about the state’s farmers with its grave and incorrect allegations of bonded labourers working in the fields.

The Chief Minister termed it yet another conspiracy to defame Punjab’s farmers, whom the central government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been persistently trying to malign by dubbing them terrorists, urban naxals, goons etc, in a bid to derail their agitation against the Farm Laws.

Captain Amarinder castigated the BJP-led government at the Centre over its unwarranted charges of farmers using people as bonded labourers in Punjab, trashing the Union Home Ministry’s letter of March 17 in this regard as a bundle of lies, clearly aimed at undermining the farmers’ protest and denigrating the Congress government in the state.

A careful analysis of the whole episode reveals that highly sensitive information pertaining to national security regarding the arrest of some suspicious persons, apprehended by BSF from close to the volatile Indo-Pak border, has been unscrupulously twisted on baseless conjectures to malign and tarnish the farmer community, said the Chief Minister. This reality has been further substantiated by the fact that “a selective leakage of the contents of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) letter to some leading newspapers and media houses has been done without waiting for an appropriate response from the state government,” he added.

Asserting that his Government and Punjab Police are totally competent and committed to safeguard the human rights of the poor and the downtrodden, Captain Amarinder said suitable action has already been initiated in each case and most of the persons are residing with their families. If anything comes to notice at any stage, a suitable legal action will be initiated against the culprits, he added.

He was reacting to the Home Minister’s letter claiming that the Border Security Force (BSF) had apprehended 58 Indian nationals in the year 2019 and 2020 from the border areas of Punjab, and the detainees had purportedly revealed that they were working with farmers of Punjab as bonded labourers. “It has been further informed that illegal human trafficking syndicates exploit these gullible labourers and Punjabi farmers hook them to drugs to make them work for long hours in their fields,” the MHA had further said in the letter.

Rejecting the letter as totally `unwarranted and factually incorrect’, the Chief Minister said neither the data nor the said reports submitted by the BSF authorities were in tune with the content of the letter. “The MHA letter talks of Abohar also while the fact is that there is no case of Abohar or Fazilka districts,” he pointed out, adding that none of the conclusions of the Centre were borne out by facts. Further, it was not the job of the BSF to investigate such matters, and they were only responsible for detaining any person found to be roaming along the border in suspicious circumstances, and handing them over to the local police, he added.

Before shooting out such a letter and making it public through the media, the MHA should have checked the facts and verified the information from the state government instead of making false accusations against farmers, and charging them with indulging in bonded labour and converting the labourers into drug addicts, he added. He was referring to the MHA statement that “illegal human trafficking syndicates exploit these gullible labourers and Punjabi farmers hook them to drugs to make them work for long hours in their fields.”

“All the 58 cases alleged by the Centre have been investigated thoroughly and nothing of this kind has been found,” said Captain Amarinder, lambasting MHA for spreading such vicious and false propaganda.

Giving details, he said of the 58 detainees, four belong to different areas of Punjab and were found roaming near the Indo-Pak border by the BSF, while three were found to be intellectually disabled. One Paramjit Singh r/o Patiala, apprehended near Pathankot, was mentally disabled from the last more than 20 years and had left his home about two months before his detention,

Roorh Singh r/o Gurdaspur had to be admitted to the Institute of Mental Health, Amritsar, on the day of his apprehension. Another person namely Sukhwinder Singh r/o SBS Nagar was also facing mental health issue. Subsequently, all these 3 persons were handed over to their family members on the same day, after verification by the local police.

Further, 16 of the 58 detainees were found to be intellectually disabled, of whom four were suffering from this disorder since childhood. One Babu Singh r/o Buland Sher, UP was even having psychiatric treatment from Agra and was handed over to his family members on the production of his medical record. Even the identify of three persons apprehended by BSF could not be established due to their mental health conditions, said the Chief Minister, rejecting even the possibility of these men being kept as bonded labourers for farm activities.

It has also come to light that 14 persons had come to Punjab only a few days/weeks prior to their apprehension, hence the conclusion that they were working as bonded labourers in farms since long “is totally refuted,” said the Chief Minister, adding that none of the persons apprehended has made any allegation of being forcibly kept as farm labourers under inhuman conditions even before the courts.

Nothing on record suggests that these persons were forcibly infused drugs to keep them working for long hours, and moreover, it is incorrect to conclude that the intellectual disability of these persons is drug induced, said Captain Amarinder. He added that most of them were medically examined with the help of BSF or Police, and nothing on record suggested that they were hooked to any habit forming drugs.

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