Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday asked the Shirmonai Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to pay out of their own coffers the USD-20 service fee being charged by Pakistan for visiting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib as very few pilgrims have taken the Kartarpur corridor since its inauguration.
Pointing to the “lavish spends” of the SGPC on holding separate programmes to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in Sultanpur Lodhi on Tuesday, Singh said it was evident that the religious body was flush with funds.
Singh said the low number of devotees crossing over to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib was not because of lack of interest but due to two conditions of passport and USD-20 fee put by the neighbouring nation.
In the first three days after a grand opening by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 9, just 897 devotees visited the gurdwara in Pakistan through the Kartarpur corridor, officials said.
Singh said that “cash-rich” SGPC, the apex religious body of Sikhs, should at least bear the service fee of the “yellow card” holders who are below the poverty line and could not afford to pay the amount.
Amid reports of confusion among pilgrims, the chief minister also urged the prime ministers of both India and Pakistan to waive the passport condition for travel through the Kartarpur corridor.
He said other forms of identity proofs like Aadhaar card and driving license should also be accepted.
“These should be acceptable since there was no requirement of visa to be stamped on the passport in any case,” said Singh, who was part of the first ‘jatha’ (delegation) that went to Kartarpur Sahib through the corridor on Saturday.
“Lakhs of pilgrims were waiting to visit the Kartarpur Gurdwara on this historic 550th ‘Prakash Purb’ of Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji but were held back because of these problems,” he said in a statement here.
Taking a dig at the SGPC, Singh said that “instead of flaunting their money to appease their ego and make a political point through this religious occasion, they should spend the same on supporting the devotees.”
“Why can’t the SGPC and their political masters, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and particularly the Badal family shell out some money for the actual good of the community,” he said.
Notably, the Punjab government and the SGPC had been at loggerheads over the issue of joint celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
The SGPC set up a separate stage at a stadium near Gurdwara Ber Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi to hold the main event while the state government set up its own ‘pandal’ to hold the function.