Villagers head back home as evacuation decision is reversed in Punjab

Chandigarh, Oct 7: The Punjab government on Friday issued instructions to reverse its earlier decision to evacuate the villages of Punjab situated within a 10-km belt along with Pakistan border.

The move follows a decision of the union home ministry which on Friday revoked its decision that led to the evacuation of villages along Punjab's 553-km international border.


Following this, residents of border villages in Amritsar, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Fazilka districts started returning to their home along with their belongings.

The villagers have been allowed to go back after nine days.

The evacuation was ordered on September 29 following the Indian Army's surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC).

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also the Punjab Home Minister, said the decision to reverse the evacuation of border villages was taken at a meeting of Chief Ministers of western border states with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan where the situation along the entire border with Pakistan was reviewed.

Badal told Punjab Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal about the decision. The Deputy Commissioners of all six districts were asked to take immediate steps to ensure a smooth return of the affected people to their villages.

"Apprehending retaliation from Pakistan after the surgical attacks, the state government ordered the evacuation of about 1,000 villages to safer places. Now the residents have been allowed to go back to their respective homes," a Punjab government spokesperson said here.

"The government has assured the residents of the villages around Indo-Pakistan border that they will be provided complete security," the spokesperson said.

Villagers seemed upset about the evacuation and the sudden reversal.

"They should have waited for correct inputs before ordering evacuation. Who will pay for the expenses incurred by the villagers and the losses they have suffered as they had to stay away from work and home for so many days?" asked Gurjot Singh of Dera Baba Nanak area.

The Punjab government, following directions from the Union Home Ministry, had on September 29 ordered evacuation of border residents to safer areas. Over four lakh (400,000) people in six border districts were affected.

Many families and people had refused to move out saying they had to tend to their crops, cattle and properties.

The Punjab government and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine came in for criticism from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party in particular for over-reacting to the situation and ordering the evacuation.

The union government had, on October 2, allowed border farmers to harvest their paddy crop following growing resentment among farmers.

Schools in the border belt, which were closed since September 29, were ordered to be opened from October 5.

Evacuated villagers had alleged mismanagement by local authorities at the evacuation camps saying there were hardly any arrangements.

The evacuation move followed apprehensions that Pakistan could retaliate after the cross-LoC strikes.

Badal said he had asked Rajnath Singh to allow Punjab to raise five armed battalions which would act like a second line of defence behind the Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the border with Pakistan.

The Punjab government has already identified 75 points where check points needed to be placed as a second line of defence, he said.


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