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Capt goes after Centre over ‘bonded labourers’ row

Denying bonded labour in Punjab, CM says Centre ‘spreading misinformation’ about state’s farmers

Statesman News Service | Chandigarh |

The sparring between the Centre and the Punjab dispensation over 58 rescued “bonded labourers” seems to have intensified. 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 CM 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”.

Capt Amarinder castigated the BJPled 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 17 March 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 Border Security Force from close to the volatile Indo-Pak border, has been unscrupulously twisted on baseless conjectures to malign and tarnish the farmer community, the CM alleged.

This reality has been further substantiated by the point that “a selective leakage of the contents of Union home ministry’s letter to some leading newspapers and media houses has been done without waiting for an appropriate response from the state government,” he charged. Asserting that his government and Punjab Police are totally competent and committed to safeguard the human rights of the poor and the downtrodden, Capt 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 Union home minister’s letter claiming that the Border Security Force (BSF) had apprehended 58 Indian nationals in the years 2019 and 2020 from the border areas of Punjab and that the detainees had purportedly revealed that they were working with farmers of Punjab as bonded labourers.

Rejecting the letter as totally “unwarranted and factually incorrect”, the CM said neither the data nor the said reports submitted by the BSF authorities were in tune with the content of the letter.

“The home ministry 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 home ministry should have checked the facts and verified the information from the state government instead of “making false accusations against farmers”, he charged. “All the 58 cases alleged by the Centre have been investigated thoroughly and nothing of this kind has been found,” said Amarinder, lambasting Union ministry 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”.

Further, 16 of the 58 detainees were found to be “intellectually disabled”, of whom four were suffering from this disorder since childhood.

It has also come to light that 14 persons had come to Punjab only a few days prior to their apprehension, hence the conclusion that they were working as bonded labourers in farms for long “is totally refuted,” said the CM, 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 person is drug induced, said Capt Amarinder.

The CM added that most of them were medically examined with the help of the BSF or police, and nothing on record suggested that they were hooked to any habit forming drugs.