A day after the central government issued a clarification over its memo to the Punjab government about instances of people being given drugs and forced to work as labourers, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Sunday slammed the centre for spreading "misinformation" about the state's farmers.
He said it was "yet another conspiracy to defame Punjab's farmers", whom the central government and the BJP have been "persistently trying to malign by dubbing them as terrorists, urban Naxals and goons" to derail their agitation against the new central farm laws.
The Chief Minister was reacting to the letter sent by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Punjab government about 58 "bonded labourers" rescued in the northern state.
Calling the letter a "bundle of lies", Captain Singh slammed the centre over its "unwarranted charges" of farmers using people as bonded labourers in Punjab.
"An analysis of the whole episode reveals that highly sensitive information pertaining to national security regarding the arrest of some suspicious persons, apprehended by the Border Security Force (BSF) from close to the volatile Indo-Pak border, has been unscrupulously twisted on baseless conjectures to malign and tarnish the farmer community," Captain Singh said in a statement.
"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 have been done without waiting for an appropriate response from the state government," he said.
Assuring that his government and the state police are competent to safeguard the human rights of the disadvantaged, the Chief Minister said suitable action has already been initiated in each case and most of the people are living with their families.
"If anything comes to notice at any stage, suitable legal action will be initiated against the culprits," he said.
In the March 17 letter to the Chief Secretary of Punjab, the Home Ministry had said the BSF found that these 58 people, who were brought to Punjab with the promise of good salary but exploited, were given drugs and forced to work in inhuman conditions once they reached the state.
The Home Ministry said the BSF had informed that these labourers were apprehended from the border areas of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar in Punjab in 2019 and 2020.
Rejecting the letter as "factually incorrect", the Punjab chief minister alleged that neither the data nor the reports submitted by BSF were in tune with its contents.
"It is not the job of the BSF to investigate such matters, and they are 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 said in the statement.
The Congress leader also asserted that all the 58 cases alleged by the centre have been investigated thoroughly and nothing of this kind had been found. He also gave a detailed rundown of the 58 cases that were investigated and said the allegations of forced labour or drug abuse were false.
"Nothing on record suggests that they 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," he said.
The Home Ministry had on Saturday had termed as "distorted" and "misleading" media reports linking its letter to the farmers' agitation and said no motive should be ascribed to a routine communication over law and order issues.
(With inputs from PTI)