NEW DELHI, March 3: India was expected to distribute the first travel forms for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus journey this week, official sources said on Thursday.
The sources were responding to reports that Pakistan had started widening the road from Muzaffarabad up to its side of the Line of Control (LOC) as both countries raced to keep their joint promise to open the route from April 7.
Pakistani officials in New Delhi, however, appeared to be unaware of either country's move to hasten the paperwork ahead of the approaching deadline. The Indian Express reported on Thursday that designated authorities on both sides of the Line of Control would issue similar forms, whose format is apparently not too different from that for visa applications.
Passports would not be sought and, in keeping with what had been agreed on February 16 between the foreign ministers of both countries, the entry permits will be issued at the respective immigration posts on either side of the LoC.
On the Indian side, the designated authority for issue of application forms is the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Srinagar. In line with what has been agreed, an Indian applying for a permit will do so in triplicate and submit it with the RPO, Srinagar.
The entry permit, sources said, will be valid for one month and those coming over will be free to travel the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir during this period. On the Pakistan side, the permit will also be valid for travel to Gilgit and Baltistan.
"Despite apprehensions over logistics, the time at hand for completing verification procedures and the numerous agencies involved, all efforts are being made to wrap up the process latest by March 31 so that those who have been cleared for travel can be informed sufficiently in advance," the Express said.
Kashmiri authorities designated by India expect application forms for travel by the first bus to reach them in Srinagar by mid-March. These will then be sent across to the authorities on the Pakistani side, likely to be the deputy commissioners of Muzaffarabad and Mirpur. If all goes well, a similar set of forms for travellers from Azad Kashmir will be handed over by Pakistani authorities around the same time.