CHANDIGARH: Punjab has the third-highest number of illegal travel agents in the country behind only Maharashtra and Delhi, as per a list released by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Punjab has 76 such agents, while Maharashtra topped the country with 86 followed by Delhi with 85.
Officials said that Mohali topped the list within the state as there are 31 illegal travel agents in the district. Ludhiana has 19, Jalandhar 9, Amritsar 4, Patiala 3, Hoshiarpur 2 and Bathinda, Moga, Ropar and Pathankot one each. In all, there are 1,181 registered agents in Punjab.
Punjab is the only state to have enacted a law in this regard — the Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation (PTPR) Act, 2012. As per the act one has to get registered by paying Rs one lakh as licence fee if one has more than five years’ experience and Rs 25,000 if it's less than five years. Also, no criminal case should be pending. There is a maximum punishment of seven years and fine up to Rs 50,000 for violation of the law or human trafficking.
The only authentic data available on human trafficking is from a report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime titled ‘Smuggling of Migrants from India to Europe and in particular to UK from Punjab and Haryana, 2009’. It was released in 2010. According to the report, over 20,000 youths try to go abroad illegally every year from the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr in Punjab and Ambala, Kurukshetra, Karnal and Kaithal in Haryana. The youths apparently use forged visas of 41 countries. Unemployment and the perception that migration is the best alternative have been listed as key reasons behind the trafficking.
Sources said the illegal immigration business was worth over Rs 1,500 crore annually.
Anil Malhotra, lawyer and expert on private international law and smuggling of migrants, says, “This business is becoming more and more organised, in which professional networks are flourishing transcending global borders. Despite the PTPR Act, 2012, illegal migration is unchecked as agents do not register under this Act. The need of the hour is to enact an all-India human smuggling act. The agents have challenged the validity of the act in court. They contend that only the central government can enact such a law,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the Union Territory of Chandigarh, there are 50 travel agents approved by the International Air Transport Association as the Chandigarh administration has no provision to register them. There are also 22 illegal agents.