In a dramatic escalation of an ongoing political controversy in Punjab, PTC News Managing Director Rabinder Narayan has announced a reward of ₹1 crore to anyone who can produce a bill showing that they have paid to listen to Gurbani. The move comes amidst debates over Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s proposed bill that seeks to make the broadcast of Gurbani from Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, free of charge.
“Gurbani is already free. All PTC Network channels are designated as free-to-air channels by the government of India. No cable operator, DTH operator, charges any money. It is also available for free on YouTube and Facebook. So how are they claiming to make Gurbani Free To Air?” Rabindra Narayan questioned.
The Chief Minister argued that access to Gurbani, a set of Sikh religious teachings and scriptures, should be freely available, a sentiment he believes to be supported by the population at large. Mann has proposed the addition of a new clause in the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, which will be discussed in the state assembly on June 20.
In a tweet, Mann stated, “With the blessings of God, we are going to make a historic decision tomorrow, as per the demand of all devotes, we are adding a new clause in the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 that the transmission of Gurbani from Harmandir Sahib will be free for all… no tender required… tomorrow in the cabinet.”
Since 1998, Harmandir Sahib has been broadcasting Gurbani in the morning and evening. The broadcast rights have been with the PTC network, owned by the politically influential Badal family, since 2007. The network annually pays ₹2 crore to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which administers the Harmandir Sahib, for these rights.
The proposed changes could potentially affect the political standing of the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal, dominated by the Badals. This dispute comes as the current contract between SGPC and the PTC Network for the Gurbani telecast is set to expire in July 2023. The SGPC has criticized the government for interfering in religious matters, adding another layer of complexity to this politically charged debate.