No protesting farmer called for questioning by NIA: Centre

The Indian Express had found that those summoned by NIA were united by their association, in some way or the other, with the farmers’ protest against the farm laws on Delhi borders.

The Centre Wednesday informed Rajya Sabha that no farmer participating in the ongoing farmers’ protests has been called for questioning by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In a written reply to a question on “whether the NIA summoned farmers participating in the ongoing farmers’ protests”, Union Minister of State (MoS), Home, G Kishan Reddy said, “No, sir.”

The government had also been asked whether these farmers had been summoned as witnesses or whether they had been charged with any crime. To this, Reddy said these questions do not arise since no one was called.

Last month, while the protests at Delhi’s borders continued and the government was still holding talks with farmers, the NIA summoned around 40 people, said to be associated with the farmers’ protests in some way, for questioning in connection with a case of terror funding. The NIA investigations focused on funds allegedly funnelled by banned pro-Khalistan organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) into India for terror activities and mass demonstrations against the government.

Among the first few people to be summoned was Baldev Singh Sirsa, the president of Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society (LBIWS), which is one of the unions participating in talks with the government over the new farm laws.

The Indian Express on January 19 reported that among those summoned by the agency were farmers, shopkeepers, activists, businessmen and journalists from Punjab and Haryana.

Some of those summoned included Jasbir Singh Rode, a former Akal Takht Jathedar and nephew of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale; Balwinder Pal Singh, a writer from Jalandhar who writes on Sikh and Dalit issues; Jasveer Singh of Muktsar and Tajinder Singh of Amritsar, both journalists with television channels K TV and Akal Channel; Winner Singh, a freelance journalist from Ambala; Palwinder Singh, Parmjit Singh Akali, and Pardeep Singh—committee members of Sikh Youth Power of Punjab (SYPOP) and Rishamjit Gabha and Naresh, two businessmen from Ludhiana among others.

The NIA, which is investigating multiple cases against SFJ, registered a fresh case against the proscribed organisation on December 15, 2020. The FIR said SFJ was sending foreign funds through NGOs to “pro-Khalistani” elements for “on-ground campaign and propaganda against Government of India”.

A verification of all the summons by The Indian Express had found that those summoned by the NIA in the case were united by their association, in some way or the other, with the farmers’ protest against the three farm laws at the borders of Delhi. Most of them were either associated with organising langar or other logistics at the protest sites or providing transportation apart from some who had provided funds for the protests to sustain.

Home Ministry sources said all those who have been summoned have recently received funds from abroad from sources that appear dubious. “At this moment none of those who are being summoned are accused or suspects. But if they are in receipt of foreign funds, the agency has all the right to ask what these funds are meant for,” a Ministry official said.

“We have no quarrel with funds being collected to support farmers’ protests. But there is suspicion that some of these funds collected in the name of farmers have been diverted by certain vested interests to fund secessionist activities of the SFJ. That part needs investigation,” the official said.

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