India is ready to sign an agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday for allowing Sikh pilgrims to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in the neighbouring country through a much-awaited corridor set to open next month, the Ministry of External Affairs said today. It expressed "disappointment" at Pakistan's decision to charge a $20 fee, but said that India will go ahead with the agreement for now.
Differences over the fee had resulted in a delay in launching online registration for the first pilgrimage to the Sikh religious site on November 9. The imposition of the $20 fee on every pilgrim, translating to approximately Rs 1,400 in Indian currency, will help Pakistan rake in over Rs 21 crore every month.
Last month, India and Pakistan agreed on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the four-kilometre Kartarpur border corridor. Through this, pilgrims will only have to carry their passports to visit the holy site located in the neighbouring country.
The two nations also decided that 5,000 pilgrims can visit the shrine every day, and additional pilgrims will be allowed on special occasions, subject to the expansion of facilities on the Pakistani side.
The $20 fee had caused some heartburn in India, with both Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal demanding its withdrawal.
In a video shared on social media, Harsimrat Badal said it was "highly shameful" for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to think that the service fee will boost his country's economy. "How will a poor devotee pay this amount? Pakistan has made a business out of faith. Imran Khan's statement that this fee will boost the economy is highly shameful," she was heard saying in the clip.
Amarinder Singh claimed that imposing such a fee will prevent less fortunate pilgrims from realising their long-cherished dream of visiting the final resting place of Sikh guru Guru Nanak. "Let these people not be deprived of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of 'khulle darshan' of the historic Gurdwara," he tweeted.
On Sunday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had ruled out the possibility of any delay in the opening of the Kartarpur corridor. "Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from across the globe as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters its final stages. It will be opened to the public on November 9, 2019," Mr Khan said in a Facebook post, indicating that it will be ready in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
His government, however, refused to budge on the matter of the $20 fee.
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