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550th PARKASH PURB Low turnout blamed on online system SGPC: Hand Over Corridor To Us

November 12, 2019 06:21 AM


Low turnout blamed on online system
SGPC: Hand Over Corridor To Us

Dera Baba Nanak/Amritsar:

Pilgrims have been trickling in dismal numbers through the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to Darbar Sahib gurdwara at Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province. On Monday, only 130 went to the gurdwara in Pakistan via the corridor, and on Sunday, the first day the corridor was open to regular pilgrims, 229 used it.

In contrast, crowds for ‘binocular darshan’ of the holy shrine have increased over 20-fold in the last two days. “Earlier 250 people or so used to come daily for ‘binocular darshan’ but for the last two days over 5,000 devotees have been queuing up and it’s difficult to manage the crowds,” said a Border Security Force (BSF) official, who did not want to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The 4.5km corridor was expected to attract at least 5,000 pilgrims daily — the limit decided between India and Pakistan — after its high-profile inauguration on November 9. The jatha on the first day, led by the Akal Takht jathedar Gaini Harpreet Singh, had 562 people — a mix of dignitaries and NRIs invited by the Punjab and central governments.

To popularise the Kartarpur corridor pilgrimage, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) wants the central government to hand over the operations of the corridor to them.

Huge crowd queued up for ‘binocular’ darshan at International border at Dera Baba Nanak on Monday

SGPC: Most pilgrims don’t know how to register online

Says System Is ‘Very Complicated’

Surprised about the low turnout of pilgrims, SGPC chief secretary Dr Roop Singh blamed the online registration, saying the government’s system is very complicated and a majority of people who wish to travel via the corridor don’t know how to register online.

“The government has to simplify the procedure for the success of corridor,” he said.

For smooth operation of the Kartarpur corridor, it should be handed over to SGPC, which has vast experience of sending jathas to Pakistan, he suggested. “We will take care of collecting pilgrims’ passports, registering them online and fulfilling other formalities,” said Roop Singh, adding that SGPC could also spread details about the corridor by holding awareness camps at gurdwaras across the country.

Around 600 pilgrims are to cross over to Pakistan on Tuesday via the corridor, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, according to sources. “We try to accommodate all the pilgrims, even those who arrive late. Yesterday, the last group of pilgrims left for Kartarpur at 2 pm,” deputy inspector-general, Border Security Force, Gurdaspur, Rajesh Sharma, said. “Yes, it indeed is a very poor number and we are trying to assess the reason for this. Our understanding is that digital record of anyone visiting Pakistan via the corridor with the Indian immigration department is a major deterrent among youth who wish to travel to the US or other countries. Then is the question of $20 service fee, strained Indo-Pak relations, and finally, the lack of awareness about online registration,” said sources, who were part of bilateral discussions on the Kartarpur corridor, adding that Pakistan would be more disappointed as it was expecting arrival of 5,000 pilgrims and earnings of $100,000 daily.

Land Port Authority of India manager Sukhdev Singh said they had made a temporary arrangement near the international border so that the ‘binocular darshan’ was not interrupted.

TOI interacted with a cross-section of people at Dera Baba Nanak queuing up for the ‘binocular darshan’ and found many of them were carrying passports, Aadhar cards and PAN cards, hoping to visit the gurdwara.

“Actually, we don’t know how to apply online. Even our sarpanch has not told us how to go about it,” said Mukhtiar Singh of Modhay village, who was accompanying his elder brother. He said they were carrying their passports as well as PAN cards in case they got a chance to visit the gurdwara. “But I became a laughing stock when I asked an ICP official to allow me to visit the gurdwara via the corridor,” he said, adding he was even carrying $20.

Sardar Singh from Patti wanted to visit Pakistan via the corridor but didn’t have a passport so he decided to opt for darshan via binoculars. “I think the registration system should be made simple. Not only educated and computer-savvy people are going as pilgrims, but there are many illiterates like me.”

Barinder Pal Singh, a businessmen who was traveling to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib via the corridor with his family, blamed lack of awareness about online registration for the dismal figures. “As awareness increases, the rush of pilgrims too will increase,” he opined. However, Rattan Singh Boparai, a small-time shopkeeper, blamed the steep $20 fee. “It should have been Rs 200,” he said.

The official website for online registration, shows next available slots for registration are only available from November 23. “The general impression is that from November 10 till November 22, 5,000 pilgrims have already registered online to visit Kartarpur. However, it is not so, explained Barinder.

To overcome reluctance of people, the SGPC secretary suggested that any pilgrim intending to travel via corridor could be allowed to proceed after a simple passport check. “At most, they can keep the pilgrims’ passports and hand them over back on their return to the country,” he said.

Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) also blamed lack of awareness about online procedure for low turnout. “People don’t know how and where to apply for online registration,” DSGMC president Manjinder Singh Sirsa said. The DSGMC has already set up awareness camps in its gurdwaras. “I have even deputed a person at my home to fill online forms for people interested to undertake pilgrimage to Pakistan via the corridor. It will take some time but eventually will pick up,” he added.

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