Dera Baba Nanak (Punja): India and Pakistan on Thursday signed an agreement to operationalise the Kartarpur Corridor even as the ticklish issue of a $20 service fee imposed by Islamabad remained unresolved.
The agreement paves the way for the inauguration of the Corridor next month ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, and will enable devotees to visit throughout the year the holy shrine located 4.5 km from the border in Narowal district of Pakistan's Punjab province.
The signing ceremony took place at the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Zero Point, International Border, Dera Baba Nanak.
With the signing of this agreement, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs S.C.L. Das said a formal framework has been laid down for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
The travel will be visa free and the pilgrims will have a choice to visit individually or in groups, and also to travel on foot.
Under the agreement, the Indian government will inform Pakistan authorities about the list of the pilgrims 10 days in advance and pilgrims will be notified through mail four days ahead of the travel.
Pilgrims need to carry only a valid passport and Persons of Indian Origin need to carry Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card along with the passport of their country.
The Corridor will be open from dawn to dusk and the pilgrims travelling in the morning will have to return on the same day. The Corridor will be operational throughout the year, except on notified days, which will be informed in advance.
The Pakistan side has assured India to make sufficient provision for 'Langar' and distribution of 'Prasad'.
The main issue that has been a point of discussion is the insistence of Pakistan to levy $20 as service charge per pilgrim per visit, Das said.
"India has consistently urged Pakistan to not levy any fee on the pilgrims. It was stressed time and again, including in the previous three Joint Secretary level meetings and at the diplomatic level, that this is not in consonance with the religious and spiritual sentiments of Indian pilgrims," he added
India has shared its deep disappointment with Pakistan for its refusal to waive the fee, he said. "
However, in the interest of the pilgrims and timely operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor before the 550th Prakash Purb, India has agreed to sign the agreement today."
While the agreement has been signed, the official said, the Centre has continued to urge this issue with the Pakistan government to reconsider its insistence on levying the fee.
"India remains ready to amend the agreement accordingly. India continues to pursue the issue of all-weather connectivity through the corridor. In this context, Indian government has built the bridge on Indian side and a temporary service road as an interim arrangement.
"It is expected that Pakistan will fulfil the assurance that it would build the bridge on their side at the earliest," Das added.
The entire required infrastructure such as the highway and the Passenger Terminal Building (PTB) were nearing completion for the timely inauguration of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor and a robust security architecture has been put in place while facilitating smooth and easy passage of pilgrims, said the official.
For registration of pilgrims, the online portal, prakashpurb550.mha.gov.in, went live on Thursday.
The pilgrims may have to necessarily register themselves online on this portal and exercise their choice to travel on any day. They will be informed by SMS and email of the confirmation of registration three to four days in advance of the date of travel.
An Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) will also be generated and the pilgrims need to carry the ETA along with their passport when they arrive at the Passenger Terminal Building.
Representatives from the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, and Home Affairs along with the representatives from the Punjab government were present during the signing ceremony.
The 4.2 km-long corridor from the Indian side in Dera Baba Nanak area in Punjab's Gurdaspur district will be completed by October 31, a week before the celebrations were slated to begin.
The corridor is likely to be inaugurated by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan respectively, on November 9.
Everyday, 5,000 Indian pilgrims will be allowed to visit the holy site.
Last November, the Union Cabinet had passed a resolution to celebrate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev and approved the building and development of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the International Boundary to facilitate pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur.