Amritsar, Jan 1 (IANS) A train carrying pilgrims to a Sikh shrine in Maharashtra was flagged off from here on Friday under a scheme recently announced by the Punjab government.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal flagged off the first ‘Tirtha Yatra’ (pilgrimage) train from the Amritsar railway station to Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazoor Sahib, Nanded.
Devotees will be provided food, accommodation, transportation, board and lodging facilities free of cost during the pilgrimage, organised under the ‘Mukhya Mantri Tirtha Yatra’ scheme.
The train can accommodate 1,080 pilgrims in 18 coaches. It will commence its return journey on January 6.
Seven more similar trains will be flagged off for Nanded Sahib from Maur (Bathinda), Anandpur Sahib, Tarn Taran, Patiala, Batala (Gurdaspur), Muktsar Sahib and Beas this month.
Two trains to Varanasi from Ludhiana and Jalandhar and one to Ajmer Sharif from Malerkotla will also be flagged off in January, an official spokesman said here.
Eleven more pilgrimage trains would be flagged off in January and February.
Trains will also be flagged off for pilgrims who wish to visit Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra in Jammu and Kashmir and Basilica of St. Thomas in Chennai.
Free Buses for pilgrims will ply under this scheme from January 4 for Salasar (Rajasthan) and Chintpurni (Himachal Pradesh).
The state government’s pilgrimage trains scheme has been launched just over a year ahead of the Punjab assembly polls in early 2017.
Approximately Rs.187 crore has been earmarked for the scheme.
Under the scheme, about 1,000 persons from each of the 117 assembly constituencies in Punjab have been shortlisted for the pilgrimages.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Friday denied any political motive behind the scheme.