Mr Mann said he runs no channel of his own and is not asking for the rights to be given to his channel.
The free broadcast of Gurbani, Sikh religious hymns, is closer to becoming law in Punjab with the state assembly clearing the bill introduced by the Bhagwant Mann government today. "Gurbani is for all and I want to ensure that everyone can hear and see it on any channel they like," Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said before the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was passed.
The bill adds a section in the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, to make the broadcast of Gurbani free for all. Mr Mann said the bill also has a clause that no channel airing Gurbani - which has been broadcast from the Harmandir Sahib in the morning and evening since 1998 - can run any advertisements half an hour before or after it airs.
The broadcast rights have been with the PTC network, owned by the politically powerful Badal family, since 2007. The network pays the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) - which administers the Harmandir Sahib - Rs 2 crore annually for this.
Speaking in the Assembly after tabling the bill, Mr Mann attacked the Badals and said he runs no channel of his own. "I am not asking for the telecast rights to be given to my channel. So why do the Badals have a problem?"
He said Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has claimed that Gurbani has always been free to air. "If that is so, why does every channel not broadcast it," Mr Mann asked.
Stating that the same channel, PTC Simran, has been airing Gurbani for 11 years and the contract between the SGPC and the PTC Network expires in July 2023, Mr Mann said the organisation should not oppose the move. "I am not stopping the channel from airing Gurbani, all I am saying is that every channel should have the right to do so," he said.
Mr Mann's proposal had invited strong reactions from the opposition and the SGPC. While the SGPC had alleged the government is interfering in religious matters, the opposition had argued that the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 is a central government Act which can't be amended by the state.
Congress's Sukhpal Singh Khaira had questioned how the Punjab government could make a change to a central Act and the Akali Dal's Daljeet Singh Cheema had called the move "unconstitutional" and "direct interference in the religious activities of the Sikh community".