Pak will act on your demands: Gilani to Sikhs

Pilgrims seek retrieval of land attached to gurdwaras from illegal occupants.

Lahore: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has assured visiting Indian Sikh pilgrims that he will act on several of their demands, including the retrieval of land attached to two gurdwaras in this eastern Pakistani city from illegal occupants.

Gilani told a group of 25 Sikh religious leaders, including those from India, during a meeting yesterday that visas will be issued on priority to Sikhs who were born in undivided India.

The Sikh leaders are among hundreds of pilgrims currently in Pakistan to take part in festivities marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

"We told Mr Gilani that the land of Gurdwara Guru Ramdas and Gurdawara Bhai Taru Singh in the old quarters of Lahore have been encroached upon. Despite the concern of visiting Sikhs and the
Pakistan Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee, the concerned authorities have failed to act against the illegal occupants," Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee leader Swinder Singh Doblia, who was present at yesterday`s meeting, said.

Doblia said the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which is responsible for maintaining the shrines of minority communities across Pakistan, appeared to be "too weak" to retrieve the encroached land from the mafia.

Following the request made by the delegation, Gilani ordered the ETPT to retrieve the land from encroachers at the earliest. Gilani also directed officials to stop the proposed construction of a mall on the land of Gurdwara Guru Ramdas.

Doblia said the Sikh delegation also informed Gilani that Pakistani authorities had denied visas to 60 Indian Sikhs and some of them were born in what is not Pakistan. Doblia quoted Gilani as saying: "Those born here have the right to visit Pakistan and we will ensure that they get visas on priority."

An official statement issued after the meeting said Gilani had told the Sikh leaders that his government would ensure the protection of rights of minorities and women by all means.

"Today I feel much pleasure and honour to say that all minorities in Pakistan have equal religious and basic rights and all possible opportunities as per the Constitution of 1973," he said.

"The visits of religious pilgrims help in developing people-to-people contact and better understanding among communities," Gilani said.

Gilani said his government will provide adequate funds for various projects for the socio-economic uplift of Pakistan.

"I have instructed ETPB chairman Syed Asif Hashmi to submit proposals and make requisition of funds to launch various developmental schemes for the minorities," he said.

The Sikh leaders said they attached special importance to the meeting with Gilani as his forefathers had laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.