Ministry of Home Affairs on Saturday rebutted claims by the Punjab government that its letter over the use of bonded labour in its border villages was ‘motivated’ and to level “grave charges”. The ministry ina letter addressed to the Punjab DGP and Chief Secretary read, “no motive can be ascribed to a letter issued by this Ministry to a particular State or States as this is part of routine communication over Law and Order issues.” The letter was also forwarded to Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour and Employment with a “request to carry out a sensitization exercise in all States, with an aim to check the duping of vulnerable victims at the hands of unscrupulous elements.”
News 18 had reported on Friday that the Centre has informed the Punjab government that 58 mentally challenged people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were found working as bonded labour in the border districts of the state — Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar — and asked it to take appropriate action to deal with the “serious” problem.
In a letter to the Punjab chief secretary, the Union Home Ministry said the most of them worked with farmers in border villages and the Border Security Force (BSF) has found that they were brought to the state with a promise of good salary but exploited, given drugs and forced to work in inhuman conditions.
Punjab farm unions, who have been protesting against the Centre’s agri laws, had reacted sharply to the MHA letter claiming this was an attempt to defame the state farmers and drive a wedge between them and their counterparts in Bihar and UP.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader and former MP Prem Singh Chandumajra said the report should be immediately withdrawn and the real reason why some mentally challenged people found their way to the border areas should be examined. “It is a “ridiculous assumption purely aimed at defaming farmers of the state,” Chandumajra said in the statement, adding that such letters from the Home Ministry will send a “wrong signal” across the country and create an “atmosphere of confrontation”.
MHA however dismissed these claims in its clarification. “Some of the news reports about the letter have juxtaposed in a totally unrelated context to conclude that the MHA has framed “grave charges” against the farmers of Punjab and has also connected this with the ongoing farmers’ agitation. The letter clearly and only states that “human trafficking syndicates” hire such labourers and they are “exploited, paid poorly and meted out inhuman treatment” besides luring them with drugs to extract more labour affecting their “physical and mental health,” the letter read.
It added that Ministry has only requested the State Government(s) to “take suitable measures to address this serious problem”.