Chandigarh: After a tug of war, India and Pakistan finally agreed that 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to use the Kartarpur Corridor between the countries every day. But in the first 12 days since it opened, the total number of visitors to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib across the border has barely crossed 3,000.
The six-kilometre-long corridor connects Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of India to Kartarpur in Narowal district of Pakistan, which is home to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, where Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last years of his life.
The corridor, a long-standing demand of the Sikh community, was inaugurated by both countries on 9 November, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being a part of the opening ceremony at Dera Baba Nanak and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan at Kartarpur.
A VIP delegation led by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had visited the gurudwara on the opening day.
Why is the response lukewarm?
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the cooperation and jails minister of Punjab, said the biggest impediment for the sangat (pilgrims) is the complex process they need to undergo before visiting Kartarpur.
A pilgrim has to apply online for permission to travel through the corridor. The application seeks passport, Aadhaar and pan card details.
Since the verification process, which involves correspondence between India and Pakistan, takes almost 10 days, applicants are given a date of travel almost a fortnight after the date of application.
“When we try to apply, we are shown a travelling date in the first week of December,” said Ranbir Singh, an Amritsar resident.
Randhawa said he had appealed to PM Modi to “intervene personally in the matter and issue orders to simplify the process”.
He said there have been days when just 120 people visited the gurudwara. “Even on the days declared as free days (when the service charge of $20 was not levied) from November 9 to 12, the number of persons who visited the gurudwara was less than 1,500,” he said.
The problem, he added, was of police verification and applying in advance. “Even the condition that every pilgrim must have a valid passport should be reviewed in collaboration with Pakistan,” Randhawa said.
Khan had tweeted before the inauguration that Pakistan was waiving the passport condition, but Randhawa said “when the sangat fills the online forms they still encounter the column asking for passport details”.
“It is obvious that Government of India does not want to waive off that condition. Most of the sangat is from advanced age groups; they don’t have passports but they have a desire to visit the gurudwara,” he said.
Randhawa added that police verification, too, is unnecessary. “Those visiting Pakistan through the Wagah border are not police verified, so why the condition for the corridor?” he asked.
SAD also wants simpler process
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is in opposition in the Punjab and but is part of the ruling NDA at the Centre, has also asked for a simpler process to encourage more pilgrims.
In a letter to PM Modi earlier this week, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal also urged the removal of the passport clause and the police verification process.
“Lakhs of Sikh pilgrims wanted to visit Kartarpur Sahib, but the cumbersome procedure coupled with the requirement of passports was coming in the way of their pilgrimage to the holy site. Instead of 5,000 pilgrims slated to visit Kartarpur Sahib, the figure is in few hundred as majority of devotees who want to go on the pilgrimage do not have passports,” Badal wrote.
“Making a passport is a time-consuming and expensive proposition with an expenditure of nearly Rs 2,000 per person. Since devotees are likely to travel as family units, this puts a heavy financial burden of Rs 10,000 per family as passport expenses,” he wrote, adding that along with the service charge of $20, the total cost would come to over Rs 20,000 per family.
Badal suggested that pilgrims should be allowed to give identity proof like Aadhaar cards instead of passports. He also said a mobile app can be introduced and special counters created for registration.