The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared the development of the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to the International Border, to provide pilgrims an easy passage to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which is located in Pakistan.

The gurdwara is built at the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, died in 1539. It is one of the holiest shrines in Sikhism.

“The Kartarpur corridor project, with all modern amenities and facilities, will be implemented with central government funding,” Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, according to ANI. “The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year. The government of Pakistan will be urged to reciprocate and develop a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory.”

The Punjab government said President Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will lay the foundation stone of the corridor at Dera Baba Nank in Gurdaspur on November 26, PTI reported.

The Ministry of External Affairs said it had approached the Pakistan government to build a similar corridor in its territory.

The Centre also decided to develop the town of Sultanpur Lodhi, associated with the life of Guru Nanak, as a heritage town and a smart city, DNA reported.

On November 10, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, urging her to take up the matter of opening the corridor with the Pakistan government.

Punjab minister and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu had caused a controversy in September when he claimed that Swaraj had told him she would write to the Pakistan government about building the corridor. Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had accused Sidhu of misleading people about Pakistan’s alleged assurance on allowing Sikh pilgrims direct access to the gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

Sidhu had also been criticised for hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in August. The cricketer-turned politician had justified it, claiming Bajwa had assured him that the Kartarpur passage would be opened for pilgrims.

But on September 19, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal had said there was no formal communication with India on the opening of the corridor.

‘Pakistan will welcome Sikhs’

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday said the country has conveyed to India its decision to open the corridor. Prime Minister Imran Khan would perform a groundbreaking ceremony on November 28, he added. “We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” Qureshi tweeted.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain also welcomed “India’s endorsement of the Pakistani proposition” to open the corridor. “It is a victory of peace lobby in both countries, it’s a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border,” he wrote on Twitter.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said while Khan has proposed in writing to hold talks on all issues, including Kartarpura, India has refused to come forward, PTI reported. Pakistan would continue its efforts and it issued 3,838 visas to Indian Sikhs to visit Pakistan to attend religious ceremonies, he added.

“We on our part will continue our efforts but we cannot do much unless there is response from the other side,” he said.

Navjot Singh Sidhu welcomed the Centre’s decision, saying the “auspicious step” will “build bridges, burn animosity and will act like a soothing balm for two neighbouring countries”. Sidhu requested Khan to take reciprocal steps to open the corridor and “spread Baba Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood and peace across the globe”.

Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti said the initiative would ease the tension between the two neighbours. “Jammu and Kashmir has been waiting for similar large-heartedness since the last 70 years,” she tweeted. “Need to carry forward Vajpayee ji’s initiative and open all the routes across the Line of Control and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir.”