India will build and develop a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab's Gurdaspur district to the International Border to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi river in Pakistan, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will lay the foundation stone of the Kartarpur Corridor at Dera Baba Nank in Gurdaspur on November 26, the Punjab government said.
The decision to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the international border was taken on Thursday morning at a meeting of the Union cabinet.
The Punjab CM said the development of the corridor will facilitate lakhs of pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi river in Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years.
The CM, in an official statement, also welcomed the decision of the Pakistan government to allow the pilgrims to visit Kartarpur on the occasion of the 550th 'Parkash Purb' of Guru Nanak Dev and said this gesture could go a long way in improving relations between the two countries.
After the decision of the Union government to build the Kartarpur corridor, Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted, 'Prime Minister Imran Khan will break ground at Kartarpura facilities on 28 November.'
Meanwhile, in a letter, Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba has asked the state government to make all preparations for the foundation laying ceremony on November 26.
Union Home Secretary has also written to Yudhvir Singh Malik, Secretary, Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, seeking necessary steps for preparation of the project and for laying the foundation stone, the statement said.
A copy of the letter has been sent to the Punjab Chief Secretary with the request to extend all possible cooperation and support for the project and to the Director General of Border Security Force.
Earlier, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India has approached Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and build the corridor, in keeping with the resolution adopted by the cabinet on Thursday to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev next year.
"... We have approached and urged the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of Sikh community and build a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory to facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year," he said.
'In a landmark decision, the Cabinet approves building and development of Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to International Border.
'Kartarpur corridor project with all modern amenities and facilities to be implemented with Central Government funding,' Rajnath said in a series of tweets.
The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year, he said.
A high-powered telescope will be installed along the Indo-Pak border for devotees to view Kartarpur Sahib in Punjab.
The issue of Kartarpur Sahib came into focus after Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu visited Pakistan in August to attend the oath-taking ceremony of his cricketer-turned-politician friend Imran Khan as prime minister of that country.
After his return, Sidhu claimed that Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had told him that Pakistan may open a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib.
The Union home minister said the union cabinet also decided to develop the historic town of Sultanpur Lodhi as heritage town on smart city principles.
As major attraction for pilgrims and tourists, a heritage complex at Sultanpur Lodhi, 'Pind Babe Nanak da' to be developed to depict times of Guru Nanak Dev.
Sultanpur Lodhi railway station to be upgraded and developed.
A centre for inter faith studies to be set up at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. Chairs on Guru Nanak Dev to be set up in one university each in the United Kingdom and Canada.
International seminar on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev to be organised in New Delhi.
Singh said commemorative coin and postage stamps will be released by the government and religious activities will be organised throughout the country.
Doordarshan to telecast programmes on Guru Nanak Dev and Gurubani.
The ministry of railways will run a train passing through holy places associated with Guru Nanak Dev.
The home minister said states and Union Territories are being requested to celebrate 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in a befitting manner.
The Indian missions overseas will organise special events on the occasion. UNESCO to be requested to publish Guru Nanak Dev's writings in world languages. The National Book Trust will publish Gurbani in different Indian languages.
A high-level committee chaired by the home minister will regularly review, monitor and oversee the implementation of activities to celebrate the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Government sources said on Thursday that any suggestion that India cleared the Katarpur corridor project as a response to a Pakistani proposal is not only preposterous, but hurtful to the sentiments of the Sikh community.
They also said India favoured keeping the proposed Katarpur corridor, linking a historic Sikh shrine in Pakistan with India's border district of Gurdaspur, open for pilgrims round-the-clock throughout the year.
The sources said India was for facilitating easy movement of Indians to the shrine in Pakistan and that there must be no restrictions on the number of pilgrims.
They also said there must be free and readily available consular access for Indian citizens on the Pakistani side.
The sources said India's proposal for the corridor had been pending with Pakistan for more than 20 years.
It was Pakistan that had refused to acknowledge the request, they said.
The response came after there was an indication from Pakistan that Islamabad was eager to build the corridor irrespective of India's stand.
The sources said India wants the corridor to be kept open for 24 hours on all days. They said despite the harassment that pilgrims face on the Pakistani side, with the display of Khalistani posters or through the lack of access to consular officials, Sikh pilgrims continue to make the difficult journey.
"Our proposal is such that the burden of pilgrims can be eased significantly," said a source.
The sources said India's intention is that the corridor must be a full fledged one that allows for maximum movement and that it should be open not just on special occasions but throughout the year.
They said the cabinet passed a resolution on the Kartarpur corridor project after many weeks of internal consultations and preparation within the government.
The resolution is a comprehensive document that contains detailed information on the plans for the celebration of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, not just on the corridor, the sources said.
Indian officials barred from entering Gurdwaras in Pakistan
Two officials of the Indian High Commission in Pakistan were stopped from entering two Gurdwaras by their administration, which was upset over the screening of a film in India that they claim has hurt sentiments of the Sikh community.
The officials -- Aranjeet Singh and Sunil Kumar -- were barred from entering the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib on Wednesday night and Gurdwara Sachcha Sauda on Thursday. Both the gurdwaras are in Punjab province of Pakistan.
They were stopped from entering the gurdwaras by their administration, which said that the Indian government has hurt the sentiments of Sikhs by allowing the screening of the film 'Nanak Shah Fakir'.
The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) said that the Pakistan Gurdwara Pharbhndik Committee (PGPC) officials have stopped the
Indian officials. The visiting officials were heard saying in a video that "No Sikh was stopped from entering the house of the Guru. We are wondering as why you are stopping us."
The PGPC officials however kept saying that they should better leave the premises.
"We had written to the Indian High Commission asking it not to send its officials to any of the gurdwara since the release of the film," ETPB Secretary Tariq Wazir told PTI.
He said the Indian officials ignored their advice.
The officials reported to have visited the Sachcha Sauda gurdwara to exchange greetings with the visiting Indian Sikhs, who are here to take part in festivities related to the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
"We request the officials of the Indian High Commission not to visit any gurdwara without permission of the board as we have to security measures for them," Wazir said.
In June, the PGPC officials had barred Indian High Commissioner Ajay Basaria and his wife from entering the Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal, Rawalpindi.