The Union government on Friday revoked its decision that led to the mass evacuation of villages in a 10-km belt along Punjab’s border with Pakistan. Following this, the Punjab government has issued directions to allow the return of the people to their homes in the border villages in all six districts. The villagers will be allowed to return 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, who is also the state Home Minister, said that 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 Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer, where the situation along the entire border with Pakistan was reviewed.
Badal has informed Punjab Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal about the decision and Deputy Commissioners of all six districts were asked to take immediate steps to ensure smooth return of the affected people back to the border villages.
Badal said that he had asked the Union Home Minister to allow Punjab to raise five armed battalions which would act like a second line of defence behind the Border Security Force (BSF), which is manning 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.
The Punjab government, following directions from the Union Home Ministry, had on September 29 ordered evacuation of people to safer areas from within the 10-km belt of its 553-km international border with Pakistan.
Over four lakh (400,000) people in nearly 1,000 villages in six border districts of Fazilka, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot were affected due to the evacuation.
Many families and people had refused to move out saying that 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 opposition parties for over-reacting to the situation and ordering evacuation of border villages.
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 that there were hardly any arrangements.
The evacuation move followed apprehensions that Pakistan could retaliate after the cross-LoC strikes.