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Customs station approved to speed up Kartarpur work

The Union finance ministry’s approval on Friday came a day after Indian and Pakistani officials met at Wagah and agreed to go forward with the border crossing for the pilgrims despite tensions between the two countries.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2019 07:11 IST
Rajeev Jayaswal
Rajeev Jayaswal
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India,Pakistan,Kartarpur corridor
A man serves food to Sikhs from India outside the shrine of Guru Nanak Dev Ji during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur border corridor, in Kartarpur, Pakistan on November 28.(REUTERS)

India has approved a customs station in Punjab’s Dera Baba Nanak as part of its efforts to expeditiously operationalise the proposed corridor for Sikh pilgrims to visit the final resting place of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, according to officials aware the development.

The Union finance ministry’s approval on Friday came a day after Indian and Pakistani officials met at Wagah and agreed to go forward with the border crossing for the pilgrims despite tensions between the two countries.

The tensions escalated after a car bomb attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district left 40 CRPF men dead on February 14. India responded with an air strike on a terror camp across the border on February 26 after Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan retaliated a day later and triggered air combat between the two nations over the skies of Kashmir.

The officials cited above said India is keen to complete the project before Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in November. The Union home ministry earlier designated an immigration checkpoint at Dera Baba Nanak last month. The developments show India’s earnestness to finish the project expeditiously and be prepared for the next meeting of Indian and Pakistani technical experts over the issue on Tuesday, the officials added.

The next official-level talks over the corridor between the two countries are scheduled on April 2 at Wagah near the India-Pakistan border. Islamabad’s attempt to shift the goalposts at the first such meeting on Thursday irked New Delhi.

Read more| At cordial Kartarpur talks, India seeks visa-free entry for pilgrims to Pakistan

HT reported on Saturday that Pakistan seeks to put a cap on the number of pilgrims using the corridor and wants a paid permit system, which is contrary to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initial announcement of visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to the holy shrine.

The Indian officials cited above said the approval for the customs station shows India’s commitment to operationalise the corridor despite Pakistan’s dithering approach over the easy access to Indian pilgrims. The Union cabinet last year gave its nod for the corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib a few kilometers from the Indian border in Kartarpur. Guru Nanak spent 18 years of his life at the gurdwara.

The government had said the corridor would be implemented as an integrated development project with central funding to provide smooth and easy passage to the pilgrims with all the modern amenities.India and Pakistan on November 15 announced that they would build the corridor on their respective sides for visa-free access. The four-lane corridor will have a service road and other amenities like state-of-the-art passenger terminal building.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone for the corridor in Gurdaspur on November 26 and called it the “beginning of a new chapter” in the India-Pakistan ties. Two days later, Khan followed suit on the Pakistan side.

Read more| Kartarpur corridor: Visa-free access sought for 5,000 Indians a day

First Published: Mar 18, 2019 07:11 IST