Pak demand of $20 fee stalls online registration for Kartarpur pilgrimage
21 October 2019
The online registration of devotees visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur could not be started on Sunday as Islamabad insisted on charging $20 transit fee on each pilgrim.
Cash-starved Pakistan seems to be looking to encash the Kartarpur corridor expecting a rush of pilgrims to the sacred place once it is opened to Sikhs from India and outside.
India and Pakistan were supposed to sign a pact on Saturday on a few unresolved issues of the pilgrimage, but are yet to agree on several of these issues, officials said.
"Since some issues are yet to be resolved, the online registration for the Kartarpur pilgrimage could not be started on Sunday," an official privy to the development said.
The key unresolved issues, however, are Pakistan's insistence of charging $20 from each pilgrim and the timing of the pilgrimage every day (first entry and last exit time).
The online registration for pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur was expected to commence on 20 October, provided a pact was in place by then.
India had asked Pakistan to reconsider the decision on charging $20 per pilgrim, allow 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions and an Indian protocol officer to accompany the delegation that visits Kartarpur every day.
While Pakistan has not yet responded to India's requests, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Sunday that the much-awaited Kartarpur Corridor will open as planned on 9 November.
"Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to public on November 9, 2019," Khan said in a Facebook post, clearing the air on whether the corridor will be open on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak Dev next on 12 November.
"The world's largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world. This will become a major religious hub for the Sikh community, and will boost the local economy, result in earning foreign exchange for the country creating jobs in different sectors including travel and hospitality," Khan said.
"Religious tourism is on the rise in Pakistan, earlier Buddhist monks visited various sites for religious rituals followed by opening of Kartarpur corridor," he added.
On 10 October, Pakistan foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal created confusion over the inauguration date by stating that "no date has been fixed so far".
The proposed corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib.
Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, while the other part from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab's Gurdaspur district up to the border will be constructed by India.
Last month, India and Pakistan agreed on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib using the Kartarpur corridor. Pilgrims will only have to carry their passports to visit the revered gurdwara in Pakistan.
Persons of Indian origin holding OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card too can visit the Gurdwara using the Kartarpur corridor.
It was also decided that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine everyday and that additional pilgrims will be allowed on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion of facilities by the Pakistan side.
India and Pakistan have also decided that the corridor will be operational throughout the year and seven days a week and that pilgrims will have a choice to visit it as individual or in groups.
Both sides agreed to build a bridge over the Budhi Ravi channel near the border crossing point. Pending the construction of the bridge on the Pakistan side, both parties agreed to the crossing point coordinates of the temporary service road.
India has constructed a four-lane highway in Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district in Punjab connecting the 'zero point' for onward journey to Pakistan.
A state-of-the-art passenger terminal with facilitation centre to host government officials responsible for ensuring hassle-free travel of pilgrims, food kiosks, parking areas and security points will also come up by 8 November when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will formally inaugurate the much-awaited Kartarpur corridor.
A total of 55 immigration counters are being set up at the passenger terminal.
The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Punjab with the gurdwara at Kartarpur, just about four kilometres from the international border, located at Shakargarh in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province.
Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, had spent more than 18 years at the Kartarpur gurdwara, located on the banks of the river Ravi.
India and Pakistan had planned to open the corridor before the year-long celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev beginning next month.