NEW DELHI: The External Affairs Ministry has expanded passport services in Punjab in the wake of rising applications for the travel document following opening up of a corridor linking the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan with Gurdaspur.
As per provisions of an agreement between India and Pakistan, Indian pilgrims wanting to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara require passport to travel to the neighbouring country using the corridor.
The Kartarpur Corridor was thrown open on November 9, in a rare and landmark people-to-people initiative between the two countries in the midst of their strained bilateral ties over Kashmir.
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"Passport services have been further eased. There are now three passport offices, five passport seva kendras, six post office passport seva kendras in Punjab. Besides, new POPSKs (Post Office Passport Seva Kendras) are being opened, including at Dera Baba Nanak," MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
The Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib is located across the Ravi river in Pakistan and is about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
"Today, obtaining passport is not difficult and we are facilitating it as requirement of passport is one of the conditions (for visiting Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara)," Kumar said.
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He said the number of pilgrims using the Kartarpur Corridor is increasing in the last few days, especially over the weekends.
"The facilitation procedures are part of the bilateral agreement with Pakistan which have been finalised after the discussions of the officials from both the countries," he said.
"Any change can be undertaken only with the consent of both parties formally and not through a tweet or a statement," he said, in an apparent reference to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's comments that Indian pilgrims would not require passport to visit the shrine using the corridor.
He said India has also been taking up with Pakistan that the USD 20 fee levied on each pilgrim for each visit, be waived off.
"Pakistan has not agreed to do away with it so far. We are still requesting the Pakistani side that if they remove it, the restrictions which the pilgrims are facing will be eased," he said.