Panama boat tragedy: Punjab wants Centre to send team to US

Chandigarh, Jan 18 (IANS) Amid reports that 20-25 youths from Punjab drowned after a boat in which they were headed to the US capsized near Panama, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Monday urged External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to send a team to the US to trace survivors of the accident.

Badal, who had a telephonic conversation with Sushma Swaraj on Monday, urged the central government to reach out to the victims’ families and survivors immediately.

Between 20-25 youths from Punjab were reported to have drowned when the boat, in which they were travelling illegally to the US, capsized near Panama, according to information based on the eyewitness account of a fellow traveller from Punjab reaching here.

Though the boat capsized on January 10, the information reached family members of two of the victims after 3-4 days. The families met police officials in Kapurthala town, 185 km from Chandigarh on Sunday, after which the tragedy came to light.

Badal said the Punjab government was sending senior officials from the state to the US to trace out survivors of the tragedy.

Seeking immediate intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Badal called for justice to the victims of the boat tragedy and expose the human-trafficking racket.

Badal said the incident took place in the sea between the Colombian port city of Turbo and neighbouring South American country Panama.

Badal directed Punjab’s director general of police (DGP) and the Kapurthala senior superintendent of police (SSP) to take action against travel agents involved in human trafficking.

Police in Kapurthala registered a case on charges of cheating and criminal breach of trust, under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and under immigration laws against the travel agents who sent the youths.

Families claimed that the youths paid Rs.10-25 lakh each to travel agents to seek immigration to the US.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Moday expressed grief over the incident.

Badal asked the state chief secretary to provide the latest information about the incident to family members of the victims.

One of the ‘survivors’, Sonu, who hails from Bhogpur area near Jalandhar, shared information on the accident with family members of two of the youths — Gurjit Singh and Gurvinder Singh — who are from villages in Kapurthala district, police said.

Police said the families of the victims have filed a complaint following which investigation was launched against a travel agent who collected lakhs of rupees from each youth to send them abroad.

Kapurthala district police chief Rajinder Singh said on Sunday that the travel agent, Kulwinder Singh, has been booked and police teams were trying to trace him.

Aam Aadmi Party leader and former legislator Sukhpal Khaira shared information about the incident with the media here on Sunday after one of the affected families approached him. He sought immediate intervention of the central and Punjab governments in the matter.

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