Gurbani broadcasts from the Golden Temple now available for free following the passage of a bill in the Punjab Assembly

Golden Temple

In a historic development, the telecast of Gurbani from the Golden Temple in Amritsar is set to become free of charge. Currently, the revered Sikh shrine’s broadcasts are handled by PTC, a private channel with connections to the Badal family of the Shiromani Akali Dal. However, following the passage of the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023 by the Punjab Assembly, Gurbani will be accessible to all without any cost. This momentous decision comes soon after the Punjab Cabinet approved an amendment to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925, ensuring that the transmission of Gurbani remains freely available to viewers.

During the deliberation on the bill, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann emphasized the importance of not granting exclusive rights to any particular channel for the broadcast of the sacred Gurbani. He mentioned that the former Akal Takht Jathedar, Gian Harpreet Singh, had previously directed the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to establish its own channel, which has yet to be launched. Mann highlighted the existing exclusive rights held by a particular channel, seemingly referring to PTC.

Chief Minister Mann further argued that many overseas viewers have to pay significant subscription fees to access the channel. He stressed the need to disseminate the “Sarb Sanji Gurbani” worldwide, with the aim of spreading the universal message of well-being for all. Similarly, Manpreet Ayali, a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), echoed these sentiments, stating that Gurbani should be telecast in a transparent manner without exclusive rights for a single channel. Ayali suggested that the SGPC should initiate its own channel and grant broadcasting rights accordingly. However, he opposed the bill, expressing concerns about government interference in SGPC matters. He emphasized the significance of the SGPC as the supreme religious body of the Sikhs, often referred to as the “mini parliament” of the Sikhs.

BSP MLA Nachhatar Pal also voiced opposition to the bill, suggesting that consultations with religious bodies and relevant stakeholders should precede such decisions. According to the provisions outlined in the bill, a new section, 125-A, will be inserted into the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925. It mandates the SGPC to propagate the teachings of the Gurus by providing uninterrupted, free-of-cost live feed (audio or audiovisual) of the holy Gurbani from Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) to all media outlets, platforms, channels, and more worldwide. The bill explicitly states that any channel broadcasting Gurbani from Harmandir Sahib must refrain from running advertisements at least 30 minutes before and after the broadcast.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons underlines that the Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains the sacred Bani (teachings) of Sikh Gurus and saints. It emphasizes the importance of spreading the teachings worldwide and ensuring that the availability of Gurbani remains free of commercialization. It states that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee must make Gurbani accessible to all humanity without any cost.

Golden Temple

AAP leader Budh Ram expressed concerns that granting exclusive rights to a single channel restricts the widespread reach of Gurbani. AAP MLA Ajitpal Singh Kohli asserted that there is nothing wrong in expanding the reach of Gurbani and emphasized the support received from several SGPC members regarding the bill. Responding to criticism, Punjab Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal dismissed claims that the bill interferes with Sikh religious matters, stating that such allegations were baseless. The SGPC had contested the Punjab government’s move, asserting that the 1925 Act is a central legislation that can only be amended by Parliament. However, Chief Minister Mann argued that the state government has the competence to amend the Act, citing a Supreme Court ruling on a separate gurdwara committee for Haryana.

Meanwhile, Congress members staged a walkout in protest, citing the absence of a question hour or 0 hour provision in the current session of the Assembly. The BJP criticized the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Punjab government, accusing it of conducting the two-day special assembly session to further its agenda and wasting taxpayer money. The BJP had announced its decision to abstain from the proceedings.

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