- In contrast to the keenness it expresses earlier on the project, Pakistan has been delaying the construction of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor.
- The first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, founded Kartarpur on the right bank of the Ravi River and established the first Sikh commune there.
- The Gurdwara was established by Guru Nanak in 1522. He lived there for 18 years until he breathed his last.
- During the partition, the region was divided between India and Pakistan. The Radcliffe Line awarded the right bank of the Ravi River, including Kartarpur, to Pakistan, and the Gurdaspur tehsil on the left bank of Ravi to India.
- The Gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh jathas have been visiting the shrine regularly ever since.
- However, pilgrims from India have to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is a 125 km journey, despite the fact that people on the Indian side of the border can physically see the Gurdwara on the Pakistani side.
- It is a border corridor under construction between India and Pakistan, connecting the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur (in Punjab, Pakistan).
- For decades, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and Sikh devotees have been demanding that India and Pakistan collaborate to build a corridor.
- It was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy.
- The corridor would allow devotees to visit the shrine and return in one day without a passport or visa.
- It is being constructed to be completed before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019.
Pakistan’s change in stance
- Even though nearly half of the construction work on the 4-lane highway stretch on the Indian side of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor is already complete, Pakistan is nit-picking on building an all-weather bridge on its side.
- It has instead offered to build a causeway (a road that is raised above water) on its side, which NHAI and other officials warned, would leave the catchment area of Ravi river prone to flash floods that can submerge it.
Reasons for the change
- Pakistan claims that building a bridge would lead to missing the November deadline, when the two countries plan to throw open the corridor.
- Further, it has also cited limited resources to meet its end of the bargain. While India has allocated Rs 500 crore for the project, Pakistan has allocated only around Rs 100 crore.
- The two countries have had other run-ins in the past over the corridor, including over pro-Khalistani faces in a committee set up by Pakistan and over Pakistan’s refusal to allow at least 5,000 visitors a day from India.
- While India had sought consular presence at the Kartarpur Gurdwara to help Indian pilgrims, Pakistan is not willing to accept this demand.
- India has also been pushing for allowing Overseas Citizens of India to visit Kartarpur which Pakistan has not agreed to.
- Over the past year, Gurdwaras in Pakistan have been used for a pro-Khalistan campaign. Earlier this year, a Gurdwara displayed posters and distributed pamphlets for “Sikh Referendum 2020”, and Pakistan denied permission to the Indian envoys and diplomats to visit it.
- Pakistan’s intent also remains suspect, and Indian officials are wary of the corridor being misused by both state and non-state actors in that country.
- India is of the view that not building a bridge would lead to flooding of Indian areas during monsoon when the Ravi river overflows.
- India is at a lower gradient vis-a-vis Ravi floodplain in Pakistan. Without a bridge, the water won’t drain out and will flood Indian territory.
- India has conveyed that if meeting the deadline is a problem, it is willing to work on a temporary arrangement to connect the causeway with the service road for now.
- However, it will continue to build the bridge and expects Pakistan to keep its commitment by building an all-weather corridor with cross drainage, adhering to international norms.