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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

India to sign pact on Kartarpur this week

india Updated: Oct 21, 2019 23:48 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar

New Delhi: India on Monday said it has informed Pakistan that it is ready to sign an agreement on Wednesday to operationalise the cross-border corridor to Kartarpur’s Darbar Sahib Gurdwara even as New Delhi again called for the waiver of a service fee of $20 per pilgrim proposed by Islamabad for undertaking the pilgrimage.

People familiar with developments described the service fee as the “only sticking point” in the launch of the corridor that will link Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur to Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan. Both countries have said that they are committed to opening the corridor in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, in November. Guru Nanak spent his final days in Kartarpur.

“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, [the] government has today [Monday] conveyed that we would be ready to sign the agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 23 October 2019 [Wednesday],” said an external affairs ministry statement.

The statement described Pakistan’s proposed service fee as a “matter of disappointment” and reiterated the Indian government’s request to withdraw the levy.

“... while [an] 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 $20 per pilgrim per visit. [The] government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee,” the statement said.

“The service fee is the only sticking point as agreement has been reached on all other outstanding matters related to the corridor. India has done everything possible to ensure the corridor is opened in time for the celebrations marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak,” said a person familiar with developments on condition of anonymity.

The statement said that the Indian side took the initiative to put in place state-of-the-art infrastructure and open the corridor on the occasion of the birth anniversary so that pilgrims from India and people holding Overseas Citizen of India cards could visit the gurdwara in Pakistan.

“While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time,” it added.

HT had reported last week that India and Pakistan were expected to sign the agreement despite serious misgivings in New Delhi over conditions set by Islamabad, including the service fee.

There will not be any joint event by the two sides marking the opening of the corridor and no senior Indian leader or official will travel to Pakistan on the occasion, the people cited above said.

India is going ahead with the agreement because of the sentiments of the Sikh community, which has for long demanded the opening of a corridor to allow pilgrims to visit the gurdwara at the site where Guru Nanak spent the last years of his life.

The people said that the Union home ministry and the Punjab government are taking care of all arrangements on the Indian side and a website will be launched soon for the online registration of pilgrims. The website will also have details on the procedures to be followed by pilgrims.

According to a tweet by Union minister Harsimrat Badal on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor and flag off the first batch of 550 pilgrims. Pakistan is expected to have a separate ceremony on its side on the same day.

People familiar with the developments in Islamabad said the two sides have reached an agreement on signing the pact.