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Transcript of Media Briefing after second meeting on Kartarpur Corridor (July 14, 2019)

July 17, 2019

ADG (Media), Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri A Bharat Bhushan Babu: Good afternoon friends and welcome to this press conference after the Jt. Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor project. To inform us about the outcome of the discussion we have with us Shri S C L Das, Jt. Secretary Ministry of Home Affairs, Dr. Deepak Mittal, Jt. Secretary Ministry of External Affairs, Shri Bhushan Lal, Secretary Public Works Department, Government of Punjab, Shri Manish Rastogi, Chief General Manager, National Highways. First of all we will have an opening statement by Shri Das then we will have few questions.

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:Namaskar. We have just concluded the second round of talks with Pakistan on the modalities of operationalization of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. Our delegation comprised of representatives from Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Defence Ministry and Government of Punjab and the National Highway Authority of India, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

As you are all aware the first round of discussions on this issue were held on 14th March 2019. This was followed by three technical round meetings where both sides discussed the technical issues related to road alignment and the finish road level etc. and how the overall infrastructure etc. has to be aligned at the border.

The meeting today has reviewed the progress reached in the previous three rounds of technical meetings and has also built up on the progress made in the first round of Jt. Secretary level talks. In our meetings we have endorsed the zero point coordinates that were agreed to at the technical level.

We have very importantly conveyed our concerns regarding the possible flooding of the Dera Baba Nanak and adjoining areas on our side as a result of the earth-filled embankment road or causeway that Pakistan side was proposing to be built across the old Ravi creek. So, to highlight our concerns we provided a detailed flood analysis to Pakistan today to underscore these concerns that these are real concerns and they have to be properly addressed.

We have clearly conveyed that earth-filled embankment or even a causeway as an interim measure that will create problems for our people, the habitations, the fields on our side and that should not be built, even in the interim. We have shared the details of the bridge that we are already building on our side, we have briefed you earlier, we have shown you the progress already made and we have urged Pakistan to also build a bridge on their side so that they match the bridge on this side.

Pakistan has agreed to build a bridge although they have said that they will build it at the earliest, they have said that this particular year they are running short of time so while they have agreed to build a bridge at the earliest but they have said that this year due to time constraints they would be unable to do so.

So pending the construction of the bridge and because we want that the 550th Anniversary is going to take off on the 12th November, so purely as an interim measure our side has agreed to, a kind of interim, the use of interim access from November onwards through the use of a slip road or a suitable service lane but the bridge will be eventually built from their side. We will of course finish the bridge on our side in the scheduled time.

So given the historical occasion we want and we are now sure that the event will commence on 12th November and in the interim we are going to provide for this slip road and interim kind of access on both sides.

We had detailed discussions on the draft agreement as to the other modalities of the operationalization of this corridor. We have urged Pakistan to take in to consideration the sentiments of pilgrims for smooth, easy, hassle free and unrestricted access throughout the year so that they are able to visit the holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.

In this context we have reiterated our request that 5000 pilgrims be allowed to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor everyday given the expected high demand on our side. We have also reiterated the request that at least 10,000 additional pilgrims be allowed to visit on special occasions and that there should be no restrictions on the pilgrims in terms of their faith. Not only Indian nationals but also Person of Indian Origin who are holding OCI card should be allowed to visit the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib, that request also been reiterated.

In keeping with the stated announcements that the movement would be visa free, Pakistan should reconsider any kind of fees or introducing any kind of restricted system in the name of special permit or any other name. We have requested that pilgrims should be allowed to visit throughout the year as is the practice in all other holy sites and seven days week.

We have also requested that the pilgrims should have a choice to visit as individuals or in a group, they should be allowed to visit on foot, if they so wish, and that provisions should be made and this is very important from our point of view because considering the large number of pilgrims who will be visiting we have emphatically requested that provisions should be made for preparation and distribution of langar and Prasad when the pilgrims visit the holy Gurudwara. So these arrangements should be in place by that time.

These proposals are based on the request that we have received from the Sikh community, both within and outside the country and we have emphasized this request. We also underscored the importance and this is also very critical to us, of ensuring safe and secure environment for the pilgrims. We have several concerns in this regard and we have shared our concerns regarding individuals and organizations which are based in Pakistan who may try to disrupt the pilgrimage and misuse the opportunity to play with the sentiments of the pilgrims. We have, today, handed over a detailed dossier from our side to highlight our concerns in the matter which contains information about these organizations and individuals which may pose a kind of potential threat to our pilgrims and we have handed over this information with the request that they should seriously act upon them.

We have also sought, for the benefit and for the facilitation of our pilgrims a consular presence in Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara so that we are able to provide regular assistance to our pilgrims who will be going there on a daily basis.

Pakistan side has assured our delegation in response to the request made that no anti-India activity will be allowed by them. We have, based on the representations, that we have received from the government once again raised the issue of encroachment and acquisition of land which belongs to the Holy Gurudwara.

This is linked to the sentiments of the people and in that light we have requested the Pakistan side to honor these sentiments associated with the land in the name of the Gurudwara and Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and we have requested them that they should immediately remove the encroachment, restore the encroached land to the Gurudwara and they should also make arrangements to restore the land which has reportedly been acquired through the official department, that also should be restored as soon as possible but the entire lot of encroached land should be immediately restored to them.

I am happy to tell you that on our side we have made significant efforts to make a state of the art infrastructure including a passenger terminal on our side which has the capacity to handle 15000 pilgrims a day. This is targeted to be completed by 31st October 2019. Both the passenger terminal building and the highway connecting it and we are absolutely confident that we will be able to accomplish this well in time.

The work on the four lane highway to the crossing point at the international border is progressing at a fast pace and this is on schedule and this is in fact expected to be completed even a month earlier, by September 2019. We are therefore fully confident that we would be ready to commence the pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Today in our second Jt. Secretary level meeting we have conveyed to the Pakistan side and sought their cooperation for the proposal of Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Delhi Gurudwara Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee to take out Nagar Keertan from Delhi to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. This was on the sidelines of the meeting by being an important event we have used this opportunity to highlight our request. We have also requested Pakistan to allow a higher number of pilgrims, 10,000 Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan under the existing 1974 protocol on this momentous occasion.

Another request from SGPC regarding sending a group of 550 pilgrims to Gururdwara Nankana Sahib on 23rd July 2019 to mark the yearlong celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has also been taken up with Pakistan. They have informed us that these requests are already under consideration and these will be accorded priority.

To sum up, today we have been able to narrow down the differences in our respective positions since the first meeting held on 14 March 2019. Just to illustrate the key points, it was agreed to allow the visa free travel for not only Indian passport holders of all faith of course but also OCI card holders for all seven days of the week throughout the year.

At this stage they have agreed to allow 5000 pilgrims per day, of course our request for a higher number remains with them and we will continue to pursue that. So these pilgrims can travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot. So these have been also agreed upon in the interest of the pilgrims.

Pakistan side highlighted their infrastructural constraints and said they may be able to accommodate these additional numbers which we have sought based on the capacity available. The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a long pending demand of pilgrims and we generally expect and we have expressed our expectation with Pakistan side that they would be liberal in allowing more pilgrims and facilities for them through this corridor.

Both sides are going to maintain a channel of communication, and work towards early finalization of the agreement on the modalities especially considering that the day of the celebration is relatively close. Our technical teams would meet again to ensure a seamless connectivity for the Kartarpur Corridor and details are to be worked out based on the agreements reached today. The agencies would meet together and work out in detail the modalities.

If it is at all required, we hope we will be able to finalize but if at all it is required at a later stage, the two delegations could meet again in India for formally concluding the agreement. In the meanwhile our agencies would try and work based on the progress made today to work out the details and try and conclude all the operational arrangements. Thank you.

Question: Regarding visa free travel, what was the stand of Pakistani authorities, were they principally agreeing or they needed more time?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:They have agreed for a visa free travel in fact all of our major points concerning the pilgrims, I could say in broad terms they have been broadly agreed. For example, visa free travel is there, then they have committed to 5000 pilgrims in the first go with an assurance that additional numbers would be considered gradually as they increase the capacity and we continue to pursue that and through all days of the week, round the clock, 365 days of a year, that was an important requirement for our pilgrims, that has been agreed to.

And our another request was considering the number of visitors and the Person of Indian Origin who come to Darbar Sahib given their family connections, it was an important requirement that OCI card holders should also be allowed. So that has been agreed too. So from the perspective of pilgrims I think a fairly good amount of accommodation has been made. I would think it is significant and substantial.

Question: Was anything regarding the inaugural ceremony discussed?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:That is not part of the talks.

Question: Is there any specific timing for the visiting hours?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das: Yes, it is from dawn to dusk, that has already been agreed in the first round of talks. It is a day visit and in the interest of our pilgrims and in the interest of smooth passage we have considered to keep it as a day visit. So that is already agreed upon.

Question Contd.: Is 5000 final and can we increase the number?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:They have given indications that this could go up, the additionality they would consider depending upon the capacity and from our side we have persisted with the request that additionality that 5000 is bare minimum on normal days and additional 10000 on special days and that minimum 10000 should be in additionality. That request we have persisted and we are going to continue persisting but they have indicated that additionalities would be considered in due course gradually with increase in capacity on their side but we will continue to push for our requirements only.

Question: Jo aapane concerns bataaye hain wahaan ke organizations ko lekar, jaise Gopal Singh Chawla ka naam wahaan se nikaalaa gayaa hai prabandhak committee se. Abhi lekin ek aur Khalistan samarthak kaa naam daal diyaa gayaa hai, us tarah se unkii or se kahaa gayaa hai ki iss tarah kaa aage se koi kaam nahi hogaa?

(The concerns that you have raised about certain organizations there in Pakistan like the name of Gopal Singh Chawla was removed from the management committee. However another Khalistan supporter’s name has been included in the committee, what has been said by the Pakistan side regarding this?)

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das: Security concern hum pehle bhi kahte rahe hain aur abhi bhi kah rahe hain ki security hamaare liye paramount concern hai aur ismein kahin koi let up, chaahe is taraf se chaahe us taraf se, iski koi sambhaavanaa hai nahi, hamaari agencies poori tarah se is par committed hain. Jaise pahle kii talks mein kiya thaa, aaj kii talks mein bhi kiyaa hai, security ke maamale mein hamaari concerns ko bahut purjor tareeke se rakhaa gayaa hai. Humne, jaise aapako bataayaa, ek dossier diyaa hai.

Aur abhi 4 din pahle, Kendra Sarkar ne zero tolerance kii policy against any kind of or any kind of militant activity ke khilaaf total zero tolerance policy ko demonstrate karte hue abhi 4 din pahle fir se ek kadam unhone liyaa hai and we have declared New York based, ek ye foreign based organization hai, New York based chand logon kii organization hai, uske 4 log Canada, 4 log UK, aise kar ke thode-thode log hain and they are carrying an online campaign against India, spreading disaffection against Punjab, against our government as a whole and pleading for cessationism, so we have banned that organization.

Humne us sansthaa ko unlawful ghoshit kiya hai abhi 10 July ko, uska gazette notification humne unko diyaa hai aur humne kahaa hai ki hamein khabar hai kii ye sanstha aapke yahan bhi operate kar rahi hai, Punjab state in particular and poore desh in general. Poore desh ke hit ke khilaaf hai ye, hamaari policy zero tolerance kii hai aur is tarah kii sansthaon ke kisii bhi tarah ke kriyaa kalaap ko hum bilkul bhi bardaasht nahi karenge.

(We have said it earlier also that security is our paramount concern and we are saying it now also that there is no possibility of any let down whether it is from this side or from that side, our agencies are fully committed to this. As was done during the first round of talks the same has been done in this round of talks, our concerns regarding security have been put forth with full force. As I told you earlier, we have given them a dossier.

And recently, our central government has taken up a step confirming our stance of zero tolerance against any kind of cessationist or any kind of militant activity and we have declared a New York based foreign organization of few members which has few members in Canada and few in UK, they have only few members, they are carrying an online campaign against India spreading disaffection against Punjab, against our government as a whole and pleading cessationism, so we have banned that organization.

We have declared this organization as unlawful on the 10th of July and we have given Pakistan the gazette notification regarding this and we have told Pakistan that we have information that this organization is working in Pakistan, particularly in the Punjab state and whole country in general. This is against our national interest and we have a policy of zero tolerance and we will not at all tolerate any activities of such kind of organizations at any cost.)

Question: You have said that a dossier has been given to Pakistan especially about the separatists elements who are working there and there is a lot of news coming in about Referendum 20-20 and the propaganda that is going on from the Pakistani side. So specifically the question is about the assurance about anti-India activities not being allowed, what is the stand of government of India, do you trust assurances being given in these meetings by the government of Pakistan?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:Can you please repeat the question.

Question Contd.: Do you trust the assurances being given about these anti-India activities being done on the land of Pakistan?

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das:Today this was a bilateral forum where it was our job to clearly highlight the concerns on behalf of the government, so that we have done in very emphatic terms. We have given them detailed information, we have sought confirmation that individuals like Gopal Singh Chawla have indeed been removed from the bodies where we had objection, so they gave us a confirmation in this meeting that Gopal Singh Chawla has been removed from the Prabandhak Committee and other bodies where we had an objection.

They have provided a confirmation and they did give an assurance today that they will take note of the material we have provided them i.e. the dossier, the gazette notification outlawing these Sikhs for Justice and that they would act on it. So we will definitely keep things under close watch, we will follow up on whatever we have said today, there will be no let up on this account as I said and we will follow up on this, we will keep a very close watch on how things evolve.

Question: Aapane Gopal Singh Chawla kii baat kii, Pakistan kii taraf se ye kahaa gayaa hai kii Gopal Singh Chawla ko committee se hataa diyaa hai lekin unhone Khalistan Samarthak ek hai Bishan Singh uske bhai ko fir bhii committee mein rakhaa hai, is par kya Pakistan se koi baat huii hai?

(You have talked about Gopal Singh Chawla, Pakistan said that he has been removed from the committee but there is one Khalistan supporter Bishan Singh, the name of his brother is still there in the committee, so has there been any talks with Pakistan on this?)

Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri S C L Das: I have no information. When we went to the meeting this was on our agenda, we had earlier also through a demarche issued to Pakistan, sought this specific action from them which they have complied. For any subsequent thing if something has happened, we will consult our agencies and take it up suitably through our mission.

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