THE EXTERNAL Affairs Ministry has expanded passport services in Punjab in the wake of “rising applications” for the travel document following the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor linking the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan with Gurdaspur.
However, Punjab government sources said that at a camp organised in Dera Baba Nanak on November 10, only 23 persons applied for passports. Sources also said that the number of applications received at 11 passport kendras across the state in the past month had actually been less than average.
As per provisions of an agreement between India and Pakistan, Indian pilgrims wanting to visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara require a passport to travel to the neighbouring country using the corridor, which was opened on November 9 in a rare and landmark people-to-people initiative between the two countries in the midst of their strained bilateral ties over Kashmir.
“Passport services have been further eased. There are now three passport offices, five passport Seva kendras, six post office passport Seva kendras in Punjab. Besides, new POPSKs (Post Office Passport Seva Kendras) are being opened, including at Dera Baba Nanak,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
“Today, obtaining a passport is not difficult and we are facilitating it as a requirement of passport is one of the conditions (for visiting Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara),” Kumar said, adding that the number of pilgrims using the Kartarpur Corridor has increased in the last few days, especially over the weekends.
“The facilitation procedures are part of the bilateral agreement with Pakistan which has been finalised after discussions of officials from both countries. Any change can be undertaken only with the consent of both parties formally and not through a tweet or a statement,” he said, in an apparent reference to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comments that Indian pilgrims would not require a passport to visit the shrine using the corridor
He said India has also been taking up with Pakistan that the USD 20 fee levied on each pilgrim for each visit, be waived off.
However, a Punjab government functionary said misinformation that the Pakistan immigration was stamping Indians passports was deterring people from Punjab from going. The government is already working on making jingles and videos to clear the air surrounding the misconception.
Punjab Home Secretary Satish Chandra said the MEA had agreed to set up two more Passport Sewa Kendras (PSKs) in Punjab. “While there are enough passport kendras in Doaba, we want at least two more kendras in Malwa,” he added.
The MEA in its weekly briefing Thursday evening in Delhi also announced that they were setting up a passport Kendra at Dera Baba Nanak, where the Integrated Check Post and Passenger Terminal Building are located on the Indian side. Dera Baba Nanak borders Kartarpur Sahib on the other side. Many pilgrims have been sent back from PTB by India for want of passports.
“It is very clear that the Indian government would continue with its passport condition. It is not going to go away. This decision has already been taken,” said a government functionary.