Even as the Punjab Police and the Union ministry of external affairs are yet to get any official confirmation about the Panama boat tragedy, in which at least 22 US-bound Punjabi youths are feared dead, two unregistered travel agents of the Doaba region were arrested on Monday for their role in illegally sending two of these youths abroad.
Briefing the media, Arpit Shukla, inspector general (IG) of police, Jalandhar zone-2, said Kulwinder Singh Multani, a petrol station owner from Bhogpur (Jalandhar), and Harbhajan Singh, a retired Haryana police employee from Bhatnura village (Kapurthala), had been arrested. “These travel agents were working for others in Jalandhar and New Delhi. We suspect them to be part of a major illegal immigration racket operating from Delhi,” he said.
The IG added that the police headquarters in Chandigarh were in touch with the Union home ministry and also trying to contact the Panama police to get details of the tragedy.
With no specific information available, everyone is banking on the reported phone call made by a survivor, Jaswinder Singh Sonu of Laroi village near Bhogpur.
As per the police, Sonu’s family in Laroi village informed the families of two Kapurthala youths -- Gurwinder Singh from Jaide village and Gurjeet Singh from Tandi Aulakh village -- about getting a phone call from him. Sonu reportedly told his family that on January 10, their boat capsized, adding that Gurwinder and Gurjeet were among those feared drowned.
“We dialled the number from which a call was received by Sonu’s family, but it was found switched off,” the IG said.
The families of the Kapurthala youths told HT that the travel agents took Rs 25 lakh each to send them to the US and asked them to board a plane from Delhi in the last week of December.
As per the FIR registered by the Kapurthala police, Gurwinder’s father Bachan Singh claimed that he got a call from his son from Brazil on December 22 and thereafter they lost contact with him.
Gurdeep’s father said his son boarded a plane on December 28 and sent a voice message to them on January 7 that he had reached Panama and would make the next call after reaching the US in the next 10-12 days. However, the family did not receive any call or message subsequently.