India to sign Kartarpur Corridor agreement despite Pakistan's $20 fee demand

The Indian government on Monday said it would sign an agreement with Pakistan to operationalise the Kartarpur Sahib corridor despite Islamabad not relenting on its insistence on slapping a service fee of $20 on each pilgrim.

The ministry of external affairs on Monday said it is a ‘matter of disappointment that Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit’ even as the two countries are all set to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 23 October for the opening of the Kartarpur corridor that will link two important Sikh shrines on either side.
The online registration of pilgrims is likely to start soon after the agreement is signed. Pakistan will take six days to process the request and four days before the date of travel, the Pakistani authorities will give the names cleared to travel.
Islamabad is steadfast on its demand for $20 service fee on each pilgrim taking advantage of the fact that India is set to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism on 12 November.
The corridor is being built by both nations to connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, the final resting place of Guru Nanak. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to flag off the first ‘jatha’ of the pilgrims. The prime minister would also inaugurate the Integrated Check Post (ICP) linking the corridor on either side.
Pakistan making ‘business out of faith’, tweeted union minister Harsimrat on Kartarpur on the  service charge.
She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would flag off the first jatha (group) of 550 pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib and address a public meeting on 9 November. She said she had also met union home minister Amit Shah and discussed the 9 November programme that would be organised by the centre. 
Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh will be one of the first visitors to the Kartarpur shrine. There is still no clarity on the visit of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“It is a matter of disappointment that while an understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit,” the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said.
India had consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee.
“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalisation of the corridor in time before the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak falling on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on October 23,” the ministry stated.
While agreeing to sign the agreement, the Pakistani government had once again been urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time, it said.
“The government has taken the initiative to put in place a state of the art infrastructure and open the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev so that pilgrims from India and those holding Overseas Citizen of India Card can undertake a visit to the holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan,” the statement added..