Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday expressed the hope that Pakistan would eventually understand the Sikh sentiment and tradition, which bars the community from paying to visit gurdwaras and temples, and would, in due course, waive the $20 fee imposed on Indian pilgrims visiting Sri Kartarpur Sahib.
Even Emperor Akbar had lifted the 'Jizya' tax on non-Muslims, showing respect for secular sentiment, he pointed out, urging Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to reconsider the $20 fee in light of the Sikh pilgrims' sentiments. The Chief Minister did not find the comparison between this fee and the money charges by Saudi Arabia from Haj pilgrims to be apt in the present case, given the Sikhi tradition.
Talking to mediapersons here, the Chief Minister welcomed the signing of the agreement for the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan, which permits 5,000 pilgrims to visit the historic gurdwara every day, from sunrise to sunset, either in groups or individually.
Only the passport would be required as an identification document, with no visa needed for the visit, he pointed out, adding that NRI and OCI card holders would also be allowed to visit the gurdwara via the corridor, which pilgrims can also travel on foot.
Amarinder Singh reiterated that he would personally lead an all-party delegation, along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, as the first 'jatha' travelling through the Corridor. All MLAs, cutting across party lines, as well as SGPC members, had been invited by his government to join the 'jatha', said the Chief Minister, adding he did not believe in politicisation of such a sacred event.
The Chief Minister said all arrangements on the part of his government were complete for the 550th Prakash Purb of Guru Nanak Dev and the state government would be announcing details of the final schedule of programmes and events in the next three-four days.
Amarinder Singh, along with his cabinet colleagues, earlier reviewed the progress of various projects undertaken by the state in connection with the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of the first Sikh Guru. He also laid the foundation stone for the 109-km-long circular 'Prakash Purb Marg' from Sultanpur Lodhi to Dera Baba Nanak, to be constructed by the state government at a cost of Rs 103 crore, besides announcing a new Rs 13 crore state-of-the-art bus stand for Batala.
Accompanied by Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, the Chief Minister said in reverence of 550th Prakash Purb, the historic city of Batala would also get a complete facelift. He announced a slew of development projects for Batala, including development and beautification of Kasur Nallah.