The ministry said it had only requested the state government to take suitable measures to address this serious problem

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Saturday dismissed media reports that it had written to the Punjab government allegedly leveling grave charges against the farmers over the issue of bonded laborers in border villages. The ministry said it had only sought appropriate action against human trafficking syndicates.

“These news reports are misleading and present a distorted and highly editorialized opinion of a simple observation about a socioeconomic problem emerging from four sensitive border districts of Punjab over a period of two years, which has been brought to the attention of this Ministry by the concerned CAPF,” the MHA said in a statement.

Further, the Ministry said no motive can be ascribed to a letter issued by the ministry to a particular state or states as this is part of routine communication over law and order issues.

A few media reports have claimed that the center has sent a letter to the Punjab state government to take action on the findings of a probe by the BSF that migrant bonded laborers from Bihar and UP were being employed in the state’s farms and administered drugs to extract long hours of work.

An Indian Express report said that the letter was sent on March 17 to the Punjab Chief Secretary and DGP and MHA has said that in 2019-20, the BSF apprehended 58 such laborers from the border districts of Punjab.

The letter has also raised the issue of human trafficking, according to media reports.

“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 apprehended belong to poor family background and hail from remote areas of…Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” the report quoted the center’s letter referring to the 58 people “apprehended” by the BSF “from the border areas of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar."

The MHA has said that this letter has also been forwarded to Secretary, Union Ministry of Labor 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.

In its statement, the MHA said, “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 ministry said.

“Keeping in view the multi-dimensional and overwhelming enormity of the problem, this ministry has only requested the state government(s) to 'take suitable measures to address this serious problem',” the MHA further said.