As the cricket spot-fixing and betting scandal sucks in players, umpires, and team owners, along with bookies, fixers, businessmen and underworld dons, investigators can be forgiven for exaggerating the nature of the crimes and the specific roles of the offenders. But even allowing for overenthusiastic excesses, the Delhi Police have gone too far in slapping stringent provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act on the Rajasthan Royals players S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan. The move suffers from several legal infirmities, and could do more harm than good to the still-expanding case against the players. Although MCOCA was extended to Delhi by an executive order of 2002 under the Union Territories (Laws) Act, 1950, its use in the present scenario is open to serious legal challenge. Delhi is no longer a Union Territory. Such delegation of power by the legislature to the executive was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1951 with strict limitations and under the special circumstance of Delhi not having a legislature of its own. On a presidential reference on a section of the Delhi Laws Act, 1912, that allowed the provincial government to extend to Delhi any enactment in force in any part of India, the Supreme Court saw such delegation as historically necessary but not as ideal. With Delhi having elected its first State Assembly in 1993, questions remain on the applicability of a Maharashtra law for a crime being investigated in Delhi. Even otherwise, to equate the corruption of cricketers with the organised crime and terror network of underworld dons Dawood Ibrahim and Chota Shakeel is stretching the facts a little too much.

True, given the enormity of the scandal, it seems unjust to merely charge the players with cheating the public who pay to watch a match. The players surely betrayed the implicit trust that millions of cricket fans placed in them. But the Delhi Police should not go after imaginary ghosts. The spot-fixing scandal seems to involve an ever-widening network of people associated at various levels of the game. It is one thing to say, the cricketers were overcome by greed and sought illegal gratification for underperforming or, to be more exact, performing to order. But to charge them with knowingly abetting the operations of an international organised crime syndicate, and thus attracting the provisions of MCOCA, is to mistake a pawn for the grandmaster. To trace the links from the players to the heads of the betting and fixing syndicate is important, but to slap serious charges without establishing the money trail is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Especially when those charges might not stand in a court of law.

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