Attempts to bring about transparency, accountability and efficiency in the functioning of Indian sports federations and the way sports is run in the country received a serious setback as senior ministers — many of whom wear second hats as heads of various sporting bodies — ganged up to block approval of the proposed National Sports Development Bill 2011 at the Union Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, witnessed heated exchanges and sharp divisions as several ministers, many of them representing the interest of cricket and some other sports federations, raised strong objections to granting approval to the Bill.
At the outset, Dr. Singh lauded the Bill in its present form and termed it “good legislation,” well placed sources told The Hindu. He was backed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who supported the move by the Sports Ministry to usher in changes in the way sports federations function, often behind an opaque screen.
The move to bury the Bill came, surprisingly, from within the Congress and was backed by its allies in the UPA government. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is learnt to have told the Cabinet that Parliament would never approve this Bill in its present form or scenario.
The Bill faced the fiercest opposition from Maharashtra strongman and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) colleague Praful Patel. In the present Cabinet, three Ministers — C.P. Joshi, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Farooq Abdullah — head cricket associations in their respective States, while Mr. Pawar is the president of the International Cricket Council. Mr. Patel heads the All-India Football Federation.
Mr. Pawar was so furious with the presentation of the Bill in the Cabinet, sources said, that he threatened to take the matter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and ensure that it was not cleared. Referring to the issue of the age bar of 70 years for office holders in sports federation, Mr. Pawar is understood to have stated that if this was the criterion “then nobody in this (Cabinet) room should be above 70 years age either.”
He was backed by Mr. Patel, who termed the Bill intrusive and something that would interfere with the running of the sports federations.
Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah also took strong exception to the introduction of the Bill and especially to the age bar provision. “I am very young and can do all sorts of things that even youngsters cannot do. This Bill is not feasible,'' he is learnt to have remarked.
Witnessing the acrimony over the Bill, the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet whether the Bill should be referred to a Group of Ministers. At this point, the sources said, Mr. Chidambaram suggested that the Sports Ministry be asked to rework the Bill. The Prime Minister then asked Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Ajay Maken to redraft the Bill.