20 Punjabi youths feared drowned in Panama boat tragedy: Survivor

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Jalandhar
  • Updated: Jan 17, 2016 22:50 IST

About 20 youths from Punjab headed to the US illegally are feared drowned in a boat-capsize incident at sea between the Colombian port city of Turbo and neighbouring South American country Panama in the first week of this month, as reported by a survivor.

Two families from Kapurthala district claim to have received the tragic news over telephone from the survivor, Sonu of Bhogpur (Jalandhar). They have approached the Kapurthala police with a complaint against travel agents Harbhajan Singh of Kapurthala’s Bhatnura village and Kulwinder Singh Multani of Bhogpur, and sought help from the Indian government in tracing their sons.

Kapurthala senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rajinder Singh said a case under Sections 420 (cheating) and 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and various sections of the Immigration Act had been registered against Harbhajan and Multani and they would now be arrested and interrogated to know how many youths were on the boat.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to intervene in the matter to bring justice to the victims and expose the human-trafficking racket.

In the complaint lodged with the Kapurthala SSP on Sunday, Bachan Singh of Jaid village said his son, Gurwinder Singh (21), jobless after passing Class 12, had paid retired cop Harbhajan Singh Rs 10 lakh to send him abroad.

“Harbhajan had asked for Rs 27 lakh to send him to the US the legal way and then agreed to take Rs 24 lakh, of which Multani and he accepted Rs 10 lakh as advance on October 15 at Multani’s petrol-filling station. My son went away with them after three days. They took him to Maldives, where they kept him with another group of trafficked youths for two months,” Bachan Singh stated in the police complaint, adding: “The captives were then sent to Brazil, from where my son called home on December 22, 2015.”

“I confronted Multani, who assured me that my son would be in the US in three days,” said Bachan. On January 15 came the news that Gurwinder Singh is among the 20 feared drowned. The caller, Sonu, claimed that a boat passing by had rescued him from the water and dropped him on the US coast.

Balwinder Singh of Tandi Aulakh village also claimed to have paid the travel agents Rs 10 lakh to send his son, Gurdeep Singh (25), to the US. He had arranged the money by selling land and borrowing from relatives.

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