In a letter that could trigger a new flashpoint in its ongoing five-month-long face-off with protesting farmers from Punjab, the Centre has asked the state government to take action on the findings of a probe by the BSF that migrant bonded labourers from Bihar and UP were being employed in the state’s farms and administered drugs to extract long hours of work. In the letter sent on March 17 to the Punjab Chief Secretary and DGP, the BSF apprehended 58 such labourers.
The letter drew sharp reactions from farm leaders protesting against the Centre’s new agriculture laws, Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU and member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) accused the Centre of trying to malign the image of farmers.
A senior Punjab Police Officer confirmed the contents of the letter but described the findings as “far-fetched”.
Referring to the 58 people “apprehended” by the BSF “from the border areas of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar,” the Centre’s letter states: “During the course of questioning, it emerged that most of them were either mentally challenged or were in a feeble state of mind and have been working as bonded labourers with farmers in border villages of Punjab. The persons belonging to poor family background and hail from remote areas of…Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”
Raising the issue of human trafficking, the letter states: “…human trafficking syndicates hire such labourers from their native place to work in Punjab on the promise of a good salary, but after reaching Punjab, they are exploited, paid poorly and meted out inhuman treatment. For making them work for long hours in fields, they are often given drugs that adversely affect their physical and mental condition.