The Indian government on Monday said it would sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday despite Islamabad’s refusal to waive a service fee of $20 (INR 1,417 at current exchange rates) it intends to charge every pilgrim visiting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Narowal district.

In a press release, the Ministry of External Affairs said it was disappointing to see Pakistan continuing to insist on levying the service charge. “Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee,” it added.

However, the ministry added: “In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalisation of the Corridor in time before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak falling on November 12, 2019, government has today conveyed that we would be ready to sign the agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on October 23, 2019.”

The ministry again requested Pakistan to reconsider its decision to levy the visitors’ fee. “India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time,” it added.

On October 18, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had urged Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to withdraw the fee. The previous day, the Ministry of External Affairs had announced that an agreement had been reached with Islamabad on all aspects of the project except the service fee.

The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur in India’s Punjab state to the gurdwara in Kartarpur, where Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev is supposed to have settled after his travels. He was also laid to rest in Kartarpur. The corridor will allow Indian Sikh devotees to travel to the pilgrimage site without visa.

Last month, Pakistan had invited former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be the chief guest at the inauguration ceremony on November 9. On Monday, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Singh had agreed to attend the event as an “ordinary man” and not a chief guest. However, the Congress said Singh would never visit Pakistan on Islamabad’s invitation. The former prime minister should be invited by the Indian government instead, the party added.

Union minister lashes out at Pakistan

Meanwhile, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Monday lashed out at the Imran Khan government for refusing to waive the service fee. She accused Islamabad of “making business out of faith”.

“The $20 fee each charged by Pakistan for Kartarpur Sahib darshan is atrocious,” Badal tweeted. “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 Pakistan’s economy and result in earning foreign exchange is highly shameful.”

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