Kartarpur.
The shrine of Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur. The recommendations call for Indian pilgrims to be given free entry. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: An Indian political leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party has said termed a $20 (Dh73) service fee on Indian pilgrims travelling to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the proposed Kartarpur corridor as "jazia" (a tax traditionally sought from non-Muslims).

On Saturday, Tarun Chugh, BJP national secretary and co-incharge of the party in the national capital, alleged that this is yet another attempt by Pakistan to scuttle the scheduled opening of the corridor between the two countries.

On Sunday, Hindustan Times reported that India has shared a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with Pakistan, New Delhi shared the draft pact after the two sides failed to reach an agreement even after the third round of talks on September 4.

As reported by the Press Trust of India: “At a joint secretary-level meeting between India and Pakistan on September 4, the two sides could not finalise the draft agreement on the corridor, with Pakistan insisting on charging a service fee from Indian pilgrims and not allowing protocol officials to accompany them.”

On Thursday, Islamabad had announced that it would charge pilgrims using the Kartarpur corridor $20 service fee. Pakistan’s foreign ministry had clarified that it was not an entrance fee and was meant to cover 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the costs. India had described it as Pakistan’s “inflexible attitude”.

The PTI reported that in a statement, Chugh said: "The USD 20 fee is nothing but 'jazia' to be charged from Sikhs. The Narendra Modi government will not allow it at any cost."

In India, no fee or charge is taken from any devotees for visiting shrines. Then how can the Government of India accede to a totally unjustified proposal put forth by Pakistan?" the BJP leader asked.

He urged Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene, saying it is a religious and emotional issue for crores of devotees who follow the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith.

Chugh said both the governments had acceded to the long-pending demand of Sikhs for opening the Kartarpur corridor which could facilitate Sikhs and others from India to visit and pay obeisance at the historic shrine.

Some Indian Twitter users who shared the Chugh's comments agreed. 

What is the Kartarpur corridor?

The Kartarpur corridor connects the Sikh holy shrine of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, located in Punjab, India, and the holy shrine of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan through a road link.

The 16th century Gurdwara is four kilometres away from International Border. Situated on the banks of river Ravi, the Gurdwara is important for Sikhs as their first guru (spiritual leader) Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years there.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak settled and assembled a Sikh community after his missionary travels. The present Gurdwara is built on the site where Guru Nanak died, on September 22, 1539.

For decades, Sikh devotees have been demanding that India and Pakistan collaborate to build a corridor linking it with Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.

Recently, India and Pakistan have been holding talks on opening a corridor for people to make the pilgrimage to a Sikh place of worship in Pakistan.

The Kartarpur corridor, that will allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan, will be opened in November to mark the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.

Earlier this year, Islamabad had also refused to grant New Delhi’s requests to allow 10,000 pilgrims to use the corridor on special occasions along with consular presence in the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara. Officials from the two sides had discussed the draft agreement and operationalisation of the corridor and related technical matters in July.

Amid ongoing discussions on the project, tension between the two countries have since New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5. Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended bilateral trade.