Odisha Govt Withdraws Decision to Auction Telecast Rights of Rath Yatra, Wants Trained Commentators

Shree Jagannath Temple Administration chief Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra denied that the aim behind the decision to auction the telecast rights was guided by monetary motives.

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Government on Tuesday rolled back its decision to auction the telecast rights of the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri following a PIL in the high court. However, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration has demanded that the channels appoint well-informed commentators as some have been heard relaying wrong facts about the Jagannath culture.

“No television channel will be prevented from live telecasting the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath,” said SJTA chief administrator Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra on Tuesday after chairing a management committee meeting of SJTA. The meeting was attended by Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingha Deb, a King of Puri and representatives of the 10th-century temple’s servitors among others.

“Commentators used by some channels during the Rath Yatra have been found speaking misleading things about Jagannath culture. We will ask the channels to use commentators having knowledge of Jagannath culture. The channels will have to submit to us a list of commentators they plan to use,” said the SJTA chief administrator.

Mohapatra, a senior IAS officer, denied that the aim behind the decision to auction the telecast rights was guided by monetary motives. “It is also our duty to propagate Jagannath culture. We had invited the expressions of interest to know the market prices,” he added.

“We will require the channels telecasting the Rath Yatra to pay some money to the temple. The amount will be decided at a meeting with the heads of the channels in the next two days,” said Mohapatra. “Channels that do not air commercial advertisements during the live telecast will not have to pay anything to the temple,” he added.

SJTA had invited expressions of interest from broadcasting companies in order to pick one of them to be given exclusive rights for telecast of the Rath Yatra, or car festival that sees the idols of Lord Jagannath and His two siblings being carried in grand chariots pulled by devotees. The festival witnesses lakhs of people from around the state and outside thronging the seaside temple town every year. It is scheduled to begin on July 4 this year.

A PIL filed in the high court by Puri-based lawyer Prasanna Kumar Das on Monday had challenged SJTA’s auction decision and the ongoing bidding process. The PIL had claimed that the whole process was a violation of the Srimandir Act and urged the court to scrap it.

Das, who is also the president of Puri Sachetan Nagarika Mancha, a local civil society organisation, claimed in his PIL that handing over rights of telecast to a particular broadcaster will seriously restrict the free flow of information and viewership.

Terming SJTA’s decision as “illegal, arbitrary and colourable exercise of power,” the PIL said that restricting the propagation of Lord Jagannath’s popular festival violates Article 25 of the Constitution of India and also the rules and regulations of the temple.

As per the terms and conditions stipulated by SJTA, the broadcaster that wins the telecast rights will have to share the feed with Doordarshan free of charge.

“SJTA’s decision to let all channels telecast the Rath Yatra is a very good decision. Rath Yatra is a major religious festival. It would not have been good to let only one channel telecast the festival. The message going out was that it was a narrow-minded decision guided only by monetary motives,” said Damodara Pradhani, senior servitor at the temple.

“It would have been better if any decision about it were taken only after consulting a wider section of people,” he added.