Editor's Note: With India and Pakistan agreeing to build a corridor connecting the holy Sikh shrine of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan's Punjab province with Dera Baba Nakak in India's Punjab, multi-faceted issues have cropped up in the region around the International Border. With the Punjab chief minister sounding an alert that the corridor is ISI's conspiracy to destabilise Punjab, security concerns have heightened. In a three-part series from the ground on the Indian side, we examine the fear among local residents about the corridor being used to smuggle drugs and as an entry point for Pakistan-trained militants, and also assess the eagerness among some who await to capitalise on the growth in the real estate and tourism sectors that this corridor promises. This is second part of the series.
Gurdaspur: The quaint little town of Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district suddenly sprang to prominence after India and Pakistan last month agreed to fulfil the longstanding demand of the Indian Sikhs to allow easier access to one of their most revered shrines — Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
Rakesh Kumar, a real estate dealer, is enthusiastic over the announcement of the cross-border visa-free corridor which would connect the shrine in Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak — a town 38 km away from his city of residence, Gurdaspur.
According to Kumar, the town is likely to witness unprecedented growth even as the administration is yet to receive any official directives or time-frame on the work plan. While the Central government has laid the foundation stone to set up the corridor, the district administration does not have much information on the project.
“We have not received any official communication on the commencement of work for the project from the Central or state government,” Deputy Commissioner of Gurdaspur Vipul Ujjwal said on Friday.
However, the word of mouth has spread so fast that the rates of property have already skyrocketed in Dera Baba Nanak, which happens to be the last town on the Indian side of the International Border and merely four kilometres from the Kartarpur shrine.
“Earlier, no one from the outside would have bought an acre of land which was priced at Rs 14-16 lakh. Now that same land can be procured at Rs 35-38 lakh. We have been receiving many inquiries if land is available in Dera Baba Nanak,” Kumar said, adding that a chain of hotels from Delhi asked him about the price of land in the town after the announcement of the corridor. “But now, local residents are refusing to sell their lands as they are waiting for the price to increase further,” he said.
Could prosper as tourism destination
Large swathes of land in and around the town are now being seen as perfect spots to set up infrastructure that would be needed to cater to the tourists visiting Dera Baba Nanak from across the world.
“Like Amritsar, Dera Baba Nanak also holds religious importance. The only problem here is that Sikh pilgrims cannot proceed to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib on the other side of the border. Once they are allowed to go to visit the shrine through the stated corridor, the area will witness a property boom,” said Harish Mehta, a real estate dealer operating around the area.
A single market and many scattered shops can be seen in the maze of lanes across the town. When compared to Amritsar—home to another revered Sikh site, the Golden Temple—the condition of the roads is not up to the mark in Dera Baba Nanak. The plans to build a cross-border corridor, coupled with the Punjab state cabinet’s recent decision to set up a local administrative unit (Dera Baba Nanak Development Authority) has been a ray of hope for residents who are now waiting for the lack of basic amenities to be replaced by fast-paced development. Stray cattle, garbage dumps and haphazard growth within the town are some of the challenges that the authorities will be faced with.
Locals say that before the announcement of the corridor, officials from the administration rarely visited the area but they are now touring the town twice and even thrice a week.
Jagdeep Singh, 58, owner of a bicycle shop in the Dera Baba Nanak market, said that during the rainy season, waterlogging is a major problem like any other area of Punjab. “We hope that at least in the name of the corridor, we get basic amenities including good roads,” said Singh.
While the highest Collector [or Circle] rate [as fixed by the government] of agricultural land in Dera Baba Nanak Tehsil is Rs 10,88,000 per acre in village Kahlanwali and Kotli Surat Mali, the least is Rs 1,37,700 per acre in village Ghanike Bet. The highest cost of a residential plot is Rs 78,300 per marla (272 sq foot) in village Jiwan Nangal and the least is Rs 13,950 per marla in village Dhesian. The market price of land is generally on a higher side of the collector rate.
While Dera Baba Nanak does not have a single hotel that could accommodate pilgrims proceeding towards Kartarpur, there are no more than 12 hotels in Gurdaspur city. -Many residents in the area are now contemplating to adding one or two rooms to their houses which could be used as guest rooms that would help them earn more.
Romesh Mahajan, president of Gurdaspur District Hotel Owners Association, said there were a total of only 29 hotels in entire Gurdaspur district that will not be enough to accommodate thousands of pilgrims once the corridor is operational. “Along with developing infrastructure, there is a need to construct hotels in Gurdaspur and Dera Baba Nanak town which will see a boost in religious tourism,” said Mahajan.
Sikhs from across the world gather throughout the year at Golden Temple in Amritsar that generates revenue for local hotel and tourism industry. A circuit for religious tourism in Punjab is also likely where pilgrims visit Golden Temple and take a journey of nearly 50 Km to Dera Baba Nanak to proceed for Kartarpur Sahib. Thousands of devotees visit Dera Baba Nanak to witness three day fair every year at Chola Sahib Gurudwara where robe of the first Sikh Guru - Guru Nanak is present.
The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2018 08:31:30 IST