CM calls $20 tax on pilgrims jaziya, seeks withdrawal

Sanctions Rs 75 cr for road infra, Rs 3.7 cr for development of Dera Baba Nanak

Ravi Dhaliwal

Tribune News Service

Dera Baba Nanak (Gurdaspur), September 19

Breaking convention and time-honoured traditions, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Thursday presided over the Cabinet meeting in a makeshift tent, barely 900 m away from the International Border (IB), and lambasted Pakistan for imposing $20 service tax on devotees entering the country through the corridor to pay obeisance at the Kartarpur shrine.

He also sanctioned Rs 75.23 crore for the widening and recarpeting of all major roads leading to the corridor and Rs 3.70 crore for developing heritage and food streets in Dera Baba Nanak, thus fulfilling a long-pending demand of the residents.

Local MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa ensured that the meeting, organised so close to the IB, was held without any untoward incident. Security was raised to unprecedented levels with personnel of two police districts — Gurdaspur and Batala — on duty. Satisfied with the arrangements, the CM announced to hold the next Cabinet meeting in the border town of Batala.

After landing at the BSF ground in Shikhar Masiahan, 7 km from the meeting venue, the CM and his colleagues went to the corridor site. Capt Amarinder met the officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), responsible for the construction of the road leading from the town to the IB, and the Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI), which has been entrusted upon with the task of building a multi-storeyed Integrated Check Post (ICP) on 50 acres, coming up adjacent to the venue of today’s meeting. The CM also visited a BSF picket and interacted with jawans.

He also used binoculars to view the progress of work being made by Pakistan on its side of the border. “I’ve been told that a lot of progress has been made in the last few days. I assure that the deadline (October 30) to complete the passage will be not be extended,” said the CM.

“However, $20 service tax proposed to be levied by Pakistan on devotees is not justified. No one has ever taxed pilgrims for paying obeisance, particularly in gurdwaras. Khule darshan deedar is a long-standing tradition followed by the Sikhs. I fail to see the logic and reasoning of the Pakistan government in levying this cess. I compare it to jaziya, a tax imposed by Aurangzeb on his disciplines to pay for the expenditu to run the state. The soone it goes, the better it will be.  I have already urged the Centre to hold talks with their Pakistani counterparts to ensure that devotees are liberated from this absurd tax,” the CM added.

Before presiding over the hour-long Cabinet meeting, Capt Amarinder also interacted with the officials of the Dera Baba Nanak Development Authority, which has been tasked with developing areas in and around the town in a planned manner.

“The meeting was held to ensure there is no haphazard development in the  area near the corridor and no unauthorised structures come up,” the CM added.

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To bring ordinance on office of profit

The Council of Ministers decided to bring an ordinance to exclude Advisers (Political) and (Planning) to the CM from the ambit of the Punjab State Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1952.

“With the amendment, these MLAs will not be disqualified,” said an official spokesperson.

Smartphones for schoolgirls too

The Cabinet approved the modalities for the distribution of smartphones among the state youth from December. 

The vendor will be selected in 2 months through an open bidding process. 

In the first phase, the smartphones will be given to Class XI-XII girls studying in govt schools.

Sidhu not part of Cabinet: Captain

At the CM’s press meet, when it was pointed that Navjot Singh Sidhu was at the forefront of getting the corridor opened, he said, “This is a Cabinet meeting and please remember, Sidhu is no longer a member. That’s precisely why he is not here.” When asked about the fate of MLA Simarjit Bains, he said he couldn’t comment because the matter was sub judice.

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