NEW DELHI: Despite Pakistan's insistence on charging USD $20 from each pilgrim, India will sign a pact with the neighbouring country on October 23 for the opening of the much-awaited Kartarpur corridor that will allow Indian pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
The government called Pakistan’s insistence on pilgrim fees a “matter of disappointment” but said it was going ahead with the pact to ensure that the corridor becomes functional before the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak that will be celebrated on 12 November 2019.
An official statement read: “In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalisation of the corridor in time before the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak falling on 12 November 2019, Government has today conveyed that we would be ready to sign the Agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 23 October 2019.”
The statement further said that the government has again urged Pakistan to not levy service fees on pilgrims and that India will be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.
It read: “It is a matter of disappointment that while 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 USD 20 per pilgrim per visit. Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee.”
The online registration of devotees visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, which was to commence on Sunday, could not be started because the pact was not in place.
On October 16, Chairman of the Land Ports Authority of India and Additional Secretary in the Home Ministry, Govind Mohan, had said the online registration for pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is expected to start on October 20, provided a pact is signed on remaining issues.
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 holy site in Pakistan. The corridor will connect the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab with the gurdwara at Kartarpur, just about four kilometres from the international border.
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. An advanced passenger terminal with facilitation centre to host government officials responsible for ensuring hassle-free travel of pilgrims, food kiosks, parking areas and security points is also being readied by India.
The corridor is likely to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 9.