Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has approved a plan to prevent separatist Sikh gunmen from again taking over the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikh faith, senior Indian political sources said on Tuesday. The plan, costing an estimated $42 million, would involve the demolition of up to 700 buildings within 130 feet of the walkway surrounding the temple's inner sanctuary. This would create an open, more easily policed area.
The area slated for clearing is considerably smaller than in previous proposals to impose security on the vast temple complex.
During the last few years, the complex has become headquarters for militant groups waging a bloody campaign for an independent Sikh homeland they call Khalistan (Land of the Pure) in the northern state of Punjab.
Police are determined to prevent a repetition of the 10-day siege of the temple earlier this month that ended with the surrender of the Sikh militants to a commando-led paramilitary force of more than 2,000 men.
Plans for a security zone have been in existence since 1984, when the Army went into the temple to root out separatists in an operation that cost more than 1,000 lives.
Four months later prime minister Indira Gandhi, Mr. Gandhi's mother, was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards.
The Indian political sources said 48 of the buildings were ancient and the government would have to decide whether to spare them.
They said the government would pay for the properties demolished, provide alternative sites for people displaced, and give a 48 percent subsidy for the new purchase.
Notifications to vacate premises would be issued soon, they said.
Authorities in Amritsar have imposed strict security on pilgrims who were allowed back into the Golden Temple to perform their devotions on Monday.