BY RAJNISH SINGH
Dera Baba Nanak (Punjab), Oct 16 (IANS) The work on the much-anticipated Kartarpur Corridor for Indian pilgrims to visit the revered Sikh shrine across the border in Pakistan is expected to be completed by the end of this month and online registration for the pilgrimage will begin from Sunday.
Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI) Chairman Govind Mohan confirmed the completion of work to IANS from ground zero of the construction site at Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Construction of the 4.2 km-long corridor will be completed by October 31, a week before the celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, he said.
The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, located 4.5 km from the border near Dera Baba Nanak, is highly revered among Sikhs as it was the place where Guru Nanak spent 18 years of his life and is his final resting place.
Mohan said that pilgrims can apply online from October 20 for visiting the historic gurdwara through a website that was launched recently.
“We are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Pakistan before October 20. From October 20, pilgrims can register at online portal,” said Mohan, who is also an Additional Secretary in Ministry of Home Affairs.
A passport is a must for devotees from India visiting Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara to pay obeisance, he added.
To a query, the officer clarified that visa will not be required but the visitors need to get themselves registered online at least a month ahead of their visit.
The corridor is expected to be inaugurated on November 8 and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is to lead an all-party delegation across the border to Kartarpur Sahib on the opening day of the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9.
The delegation that will accompany the Chief Minister to the historic gurdwara would comprise all the 117 state legislators, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs from Punjab, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) members, as well as members of the Sant Samaj and representatives of each recognized political party in the state.
Thereafter, the LPAI chief said, 5,000 pilgrims will be able to visit the gurdwara every day and their visit would be completed in same day.
Clarifying the point, Mohan said the pilgrims will have to complete their visit to Kartarpur shrine the same day they cross the Indian border.
“The entire concept is that the pilgrims would cross over the same day and return the same day. The exact hours under which they will go over and return would be worked out. It will be a one day visit and they will have to return the same day.”
Over Pakistan seeking $20 service charge from each visitor using the Kartarpur Corridor, Mohan said a Joint Secretary level officer from the Ministry of Home Affairs are in the talks with Pakistani counterparts to resolve the issue.
“I am here in my capacity as Chairman, LPAI. I am not part of the negotiating team which is headed by a Joint Secretary of the MHA. But I have been told and I have clearance to inform you that the negotiations over $20 fee are underway and the entire issue is still open,” Mohan said.
Clarifying that Centre has been getting full cooperation from Punjab government at every point in the ongoing construction of the corridor, the official said there were temporary obstacles to come in any construction.
“The problem was solved at once when we took up the issue on local level with District Magistrate and Commissioner. As our whole construction time frame is of 90 and 100 days, loss of a single day is really a costly affair for us. There was a loss of three-four days, but it was not as big. There was not a single occasion when we did not get support from Punjab government and its agencies.”
“We could manage to finish the work expeditiously only because of Punjab government’s support,” said Mohan.
The officer refused to speak over security matter, citing that he handles the LPAI.
On the question of sudden rush in Pakistan side after the corridor is opened for the pilgrims, Mohan said Indian side, led by a Joint Secretary, is in continuous touch with neighboring side and an agreement was done earlier for the visit of 5,000 pilgrims per day. “It is our expectation that they will be able to absorb that number.”
“There is a capacity of 5,000 pilgrims. It would be decided later whether these pilgrims visit there in a single batch or in two-three batches,” he added.
With the beginning of the corridor, the pilgrims would be able to visit the holy shrine throughout the year, he said, adding the corridor will have modern amenities and facilities.
Both India and Pakistan have already agreed on visa-free travel for 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily throughout the year, without restrictions, based on their faith. Persons of Indian origin holding Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards too can visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
BY RAJNISH SINGH