TAXILA: The government has cancelled Baisakhi celebrations scheduled to begin on April 14 in Hassanabdal, in which 3,000 Sikhs from India and 2,000 from elsewhere around the world were to participate.
Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said that a meeting of the ETPB and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbadhank Committee (PSGPC) unanimously decided that there would be no Baisakhi celebrations at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassanabdal this year and the scheduled visits of Sikh pilgrims has been cancelled.
Baisakhi is a Sikh baptism ceremony also known as the spring harvest festival, which marks the Sikh new year.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs has already been informed of the decision, he said, with onward communication for the Foreign Office and the Indian government regarding the development and that the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi would not issue visas to pilgrims this year.
“We have monitored the situation closely in recent days and worked with government departments including the PSGPCand other stakeholders. We are committed to following the guidelines set by the federal government to ensure a safe environment for our Sikh pilgrim guests and we would not risk their health amid the global coronavirus outbreak,” Mr Gondal said.
To a question, he said Pakistan gave all Sikh representative bodies the green light in November 2019 that Pakistan would issue 3,000 visas to Indian pilgrims who wanted to participate in the Baisakhi festival, as well as limitless visas for pilgrims from other parts of the world.
The ETPB had also issued a schedule for Indian pilgrims that was shared with the Indian government. Security, boarding and lodging arrangements had been finalised at all the temples the pilgrims would visit.
PSGPC General Secretary Sardar Ameer Singh, a leading organiser, said the decision was made to prevent all risks to public health and safety.
Deciding to cancel the event was not easy, he said, as the Sikh community around the world has great emotional, religious and cultural attachment to the event. He added that only symbolic Baisakhi celebrations will be observed at Gurdwara Punja Sahib.
He said he has also released a video message for all Pakistani and foreign Sikh bodies saying that there would be no Baisakhi celebrations due to Covid-19.
Mr Singh said that the high priests of Akal Takht – the highest religious authority in the Sikh faith – have already announced that Baisakhi celebrations around the world would be smaller in scale due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Tens of thousands of Sikhs typically participate in Baisakhi celebrations every year. In 2019, more than 15,000 pilgrims visited the gurdwaras in Hassanabdal.