These days it is common to see the yellow tops of JCBs and their raised front-hoes at work, behind the defence lane of Pakistan on the border. The dust raised by the earth moving machines is a welcome sight for Sikh devotees visiting the international border at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, for it signals the construction of the Kartarpur corridor on the Pakistan side.
In November 2018, both India and Pakistan announced their decision to construct Kartarpur corridor in their respective territories to allow Sikh devotees from India to visit gurdwaras Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, around 4.5 km inside Pakistan.
So far, Sikh devotees could only see the gurdwara in Pakistan with binoculars installed on a raised platform almost on the zero line at Dera Baba Nanak.
There are no signs of construction in the Indian territory except for some red flags put up by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in the farm land of three villages for demarcation of the land that is expected to be acquired soon. Notification for acquiring the land for the 4.25-km corridor in the Indian territory has been issued but farmers whose land is marked with red flags are yet to receive any formal intimation.
Uncertainty prevails among the locals. Joginder Singh, a farmer, said, “Red flags have been put up on our lands but no one has told us what we would get in return. This land is our only source of income. Most of us are small farmers and it will be a big shift in our lives if we are told to give up our land. We will have to start our lives from zero again we want to know how much land will be acquired and how much compensation we will get. But the district administration has kept us in the dark.”
Anxious farmers wanted to meet a team of Land Port Authority of India (LPAI), which visited Dera Baba Nanak and International border on Wednesday.
Some farmers also sat on dharna for some time to gain the attention of the team members though the latter had nothing to do with their demands.
Demanding market rate for their land, Joginder Singh said, “Recently, a few marlas were sold in this area for a high sum. By this estimate, one acre should fetch us Rs 80 lakh. But the collector rate in Dera Baba Nanak is Rs 9 to 10 lakh. We will get nothing if our lands are acquired at collector rates. We should be given compensation according to market price of the land.”
Charanjit Singh, a farmer, said, “It would be better if the government gives us land in exchange of our land rather than cash compensation. Government has lot of land in the area that can be allotted to farmers whose lands are taken for the corridor.”
Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Vipul Ujjwal, who was also in Dera Baba Nanak along with the LPAI team, said, “We will soon sit with the farmers and hear their grievances. We will do out best to satisfy the farmers before acquiring their land.”
“The deputy commissioner has promised to meet us on January 28. We will see what happens then,” said Mangal Singh.
The DC said, “Notification has already issued for the acquisition of land for the corridor. Soon, NHAI will make public the names of farmers, whose land will be acquired. Today, an LPAI team visited Dera Baba Nanak and surveyed the land they would require to set up an Integrated Check Post (ICP). Their land requirement will be additional to the notification issued for the corridor. The Punjab government may also need to acquire some land separately for the corridor. Everything will be finalised soon.”
Sukhwinder Singh Aghwan, a local leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), said, “Both the Punjab and the central governments should explain the matter to the residents of Dera Baba Nanak. Property dealers have been using this situation to spread rumorus. Farmers are worried. It will be in the interest of the corridor to keep the proceedings transparent.”
Construction on Pak side
Construction work on the corridor is going on in full swing on the Pakistan side as can be seen from the border.
“Just yesterday, I saw a video on YouTube in which a man was standing behind the Pakistan defence lane and showing how work was going on there. There were several earth moving machines and JCBs in that video,” said Sukhdev Singh, who came from Fathegarh Sahib to see Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.
Winter is not considered a good time to see Gurudwara in Kartarpur through binoculars as visibility remains low but on Wednesday afternoon, the sly was clear and the visibility good.
India has to construct only a road to the international border for the corridor, Pakistan has to build two bridges — one over the Ravi and other over a water channel flowing parallel to the Ravi.
Sources in Pakistan said the work on pillars for these two bridges has started and the government has announced that it would complete the construction before November 2019 when Guru Nanak Dev ji’s 550th birth anniversary will be celebrated.
“I have seen people coming to the zero line all these years and making prayers for the corridor. But the sight of the JCBs has made me realise that it is finally going to happen. For now, the Pakistan government is moving ahead and the Indian side is lagging,” said Buta Singh, a volunteer at Guru Baba Sidh Randhawa near the border where the binocular is installed.