To keep the Sikh pilgrims' sentiments in mind, India has decided to go ahead with the Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan. The development has come since the Pakistani government has been insisting on levying the $20 (Rs 1,420) fee on the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara pilgrims from India.
Sources say that India has been in discussions with the Pakistan side to explain that it is not in the interest of pilgrims to levy the service fee of $20. But, Pakistan has been "rigid" and "inflexible" in its "unreasonable" demand and they refused to budge from their position.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, "If Pakistan wants to levy a service charge despite India's objections, India will go ahead with the Kartarpur Corridor agreement keeping religious sentiments and longstanding demand in mind." The Kartarpur agreement between India and Pakistan will be signed on October 23.
"In view of the long pending demand of pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib& in the interest of operationalisation of Kartarpur Corridor in time before 12 November, the government conveys that we would be ready to sign Agreement on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on October 23," the MEA said.
"The government has taken the initiative to put in place the state of art infrastructure and open the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji so that the pilgrims from India and those holding Overseas Citizen of India Card can undertake visit to the holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib, currently in Pakistan," the MEA statement read.
While Pakistan has been adamant about the service fee, India reiterated its request that Islamabad reconsiders its position and waive the charges. The MEA said that it was "disappointing" that Pakistan continues to insist on levying the service charge of $20 on the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara pilgrims from India.
"While agreeing to sign the Agreement, the Government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the Agreement accordingly at any time," said MEA.
"It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of USD 20 per pilgrim per visit," the MEA said.
The ministry also said that the government had on various occasions urged the Pakistani government to not charge he Kartarpur pilgrims. "Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee," the MEA said.
"India would be ready to amend the Agreement accordingly at any time," the ministry further added.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had on Sunday announced that the much-awaited Kartarpur corridor will be opened on November 9.
"Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on November 9, 2019," Imran Khan said in a Facebook post.