Islamabad - Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from across the world visiting the sacred place of Gurdwara Panja Sahib on the occasion of Besakhi suffered due to poor arrangements of the Evacuee Trust Board (ETB), an official said on Saturday.

The official said that around 2000 Sikh pilgrims visited from India and other countries, while nearly 6000 reached the city of Hasanabdal to celebrate the three-day Besakhi (12-14 April).

In defiance of their claims of excellent arrangements, ETB failed to provide proper facilities to the Sikh pilgrims despite a whole year for the preparations.

“Like every year, the ETB failed to provide proper food and accommodation to the pilgrims,” said the official.

The pilgrims from foreign countries were allotted rooms on preference while the local visitors were provided space in lawns and galleries of the hostels, official added.

According to him, the rooms allotted to foreign pilgrims including families were not spacious enough to accommodate the number of people.

“Five people were given a small room, while the tents resembled refugee camps,” the official added.

According to official, despite the presence of a ‘Langar Khana’ (kitchen) the ETB failed to arrange a space where the devotees could cook their meals in a clean environment.

“The trains on which the Sikh pilgrims were brought were also in poor condition,” the official added.

The ETB invests in the construction and renovation of the worship place but is less concerned in solving the accommodation and other issues of the devotees which arise every year, said the official.

According to the official, the district administration banned private accommodation for Sikh pilgrims after a terror wave hit the country.

“For almost a decade, devotees were not allowed to hire rooms in the city as paying guests resulting in all visitors being adjusted inside Gurdwara Panja Sahab,” said the official.

He said that ETB earns millions in revenue but has failed to construct more hostels.

Majority of the Sikh devotees are from a different socioeconomic background and the fact that ETC does not have the capacity to accommodate them for even three days is disappointing, added the official.

The hapless pilgrims were seen resting in the galleries of the hostel while hundreds were residing in poor quality tents in the hot weather.

They were compelled to set their luggage besides the washrooms. Due to the poor hygiene conditions, hundreds of devotees had to visit the health camp,” said the official.

Mukhtar Singh, a devotee from Amritsar, India said that he his 65 years old and has visited Panja Sahab for the first time.

“I’m thankful to the Pakistani people for their hospitality but the arrangements are not satisfactory,” he said.

Mukhtar Singh added that men could adjust in fewer facilities but the women cannot sleep in corridors or open air.

Surrinder Kaur informed that she is excited to visit Pakistan and the holy place of Panja Sahab but the government of Pakistan has not made sufficient arrangements for the number of visitors that have been issued visas.

Meanwhile, federal minister for religious affairs Sardar Mohammad Yusuf said that around 10000 Sikh devotees reached Panja Sahab this year and government of Pakistan, ETB provided every facility to them. He said that government will welcome more pilgrims in future and assured to address the accommodation issue.