India rejects SGPC request for Jatha’s travel to Pak, cites threat to safety
The Union home ministry said its clearance was mandatory due to restrictions on cross-border travel imposed in March last year due to the coronavirus pandemic
India has declined permission to a group of 600 Sikh pilgrims scheduled to travel to Pakistan on a week-long visit beginning Thursday, citing a “considerable threat” to their security and the health infrastructure in the neighbouring country to deal with Covid cases, people familiar with the matter said.
The Union home ministry decision was conveyed on Wednesday to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the highest temporal body of Sikhs, which had organised the visit to attend the 100th anniversary of Saka Nankana Sahib.
Hindustan Times has seen a copy of this communication.
“Recent inputs indicate a threat to the safety and security of Indian citizens visiting Pakistan. As the Jatha (caravan of pilgrims), which may have nearly 600 members, is scheduled to visit five Gurudwaras across Pakistan over a period of a week, we apprehend considerable threat to the safety of a large number of our citizens during this visit,” the home ministry letter said.
A person familiar with the development acknowledged said the home ministry decision was unusual. Sikh Jathas have never been stopped from going to Pakistan in the past even when bilateral relations between two countries were at its worst, during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or Pulwama attack. There may have been instances where individuals were stopped but Sikh Jathas were allowed to travel to Pakitan in November 2020 also.
Wednesday's home ministry letter said its permission was needed "in view of the ongoing suspension of cross-border traffic due to Covid-19 pandemic"
India had suspended travel to Pakistan in March 2020 in view of the coronavirus pandemic that infected more than 10 million people and led to 1,55,913 deaths.
The home ministry letter added: “While the pandemic continues to persist, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan has so far recorded over half a million cases with over 10,000-plus deaths due to Covid. Considering the capacity of health infrastructure in Pakistan, it is not advisable for a large group of our citizens to visit Pakistan for a week during the pandemic”.
There has been no reaction from the SGPC so far.