The coming up of the Golden Temple plaza may have added to the grandeur and beauty of the shrine, but it has also become a cause of worry for those who manage and run shops situated on both sides of the Clock Tower entrance to the shrine.
They do have reason to be worried as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is the owner of these shops, has asked all of them to vacate their shops. Seventeen in number, these shops have been there since the past five to six decades, selling 'karas', 'kirpans', 'rumalas', souvenirs, photographs and paintings of the Golden Temple and of the Sikh gurus.
Devotees purchase 'karas' or other such items from any of these shops from here and preserve them as religious symbols associated with the Golden Temple. Even empty bottles for taking 'amrit' (holy water) from the 'sarovar' (holy tank) of the shrine to their homes are purchased by devotees from these shops.
To ensure that their only means of livelihood is not snatched from them, these hopkeepers have now formed the Golden temple Complex Shopkeepers Association.
Parminder Singh, who family runs a gift shop here for the past 50 years and has received a notice from the SGPC for vacating the shop, said, "My grandfather started this shop many years ago and for all these years, this was the only source of income of our family. Like us, there are many other families who depend on the business we do here".
Parminder calimed that initially they were being asked to vacate the shops and go home. "But when we all put up some resistance, the SGPC gave us an option. They offered us an alternate site where they have newly-constructed shops at the other end of the plaza. That side is directly opposite the Clock Tower entrance," he said.
However for the new sites, the shopkeepers will have to pay a monthly rent of Rs 35,000 whereas they are now paying Rs 4,500 per month, which means a much higher rent for a shop which is far less than the area of the their present business establishments.
"When we were young the rent was Rs 200, later it was raised to Rs1,300 and then Rs 4,200. But on every front, we have co-operated with the SGPC and will do that even in near future. But it is gross injustice to charge a very heavy amount for a shop which is far less than the ones we occupy now", said Parminder.
He pointed out that the present premises they occupy will not enable them to display their goods or items. The SGPC may not allow them to have doors on these shops, which are proposed to be open sale outlets. They will not be allowed to put up their sign boards outside the shops.
Parminder Singh claims that he, along with the president of the shopkeepers association, Gurdip Singh, met deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in Delhi recently and asked for better alternative sites than the ones being offered. However, the deputy CM paid no heed to their demand and on the contrary told them that they had tried to hinder the Golden Temple plaza project.
"Even chief minister Parkash Singh Badal refused to listen to us. He told us that it was an SGPC issue and he never interferred in matters of the religious body", Parminder added.
Golden Temple Complex Association president Gurdip Singh, said, "It's been 40 years since I have been running this shop which offers all kinds of religious and cultural items. Our shops give clear view of all the items and thus we earn our bread from here. These shops, which the authorities are planning to provide us, do not suit us as they are enclosed and we will have to pay seven times higher rent. It is also tough to understand as to why they are forcing old shopkeepers to opt for new shops. Why aren't the new shopkeepers shifted into the new ones. We have sentiments attached to these shops. It's tough for us to leave them."
He added, "We request the administrator to consider our demands. We aren't obstructing the plaza. Rather being old shopkeepers, we would be able to maintain this area with our contributions."
Joginder Singh Kohli who runs a 'gathri ghar' (cloak room) in one of the shops, too is not being spared.
"For the last 60 years, I and my family have been doing this service free of cost despite paying a rent to the SGPC. Our location is so convenient that a devotee entering the shrine just hands over his baggage to us till the time he spends inside the shrine. Now if we open such a facility at the new location, it will be difficult for the devotee to locate it and moreover, we may not be in a position to offer such a facility free of cost due to the high rent," Kohli added.