The Union Sports Ministry on Tuesday “set aside the elections to the post of president, secretary and treasurer of the Athletics Federation of India” and told it to conduct fresh elections to these posts.

The AFI, which had held its elections on April 14 last, was asked to hold elections afresh within 60 days, or February 28, 2013, “whichever is earlier”, failing which the recognition granted to the federation would be considered as withdrawn.

(Though some confusion prevailed about the ‘whichever-is-earlier’ clause since 60 days can only mean February 10 next year, ministry sources explained that some grace period could be given to the federation by extending the deadline to Feb. 28.)

The government decision, announced after a day of speculation about the action proposed by the ministry, came on expected lines since it had been asked by the Delhi High Court earlier to look into the elections and take appropriate action if they were not held as per provisions in the National Sports Code.

“It was found that clause XIV (b) (1) of the constitution of AFI required that a person must be an existing member of the Executive Committee of the AFI for seeking election to the post of president/secretary. This clause was found to be restricting the potential candidates and was also in violation of the National Sports Development Code 2011. It was also observed that the election to the post of treasurer was also in contravention of the Department of Personnel & Training’s circular dated 22-4-1994,” said the release.

The federation was asked to amend its constitution and hold fresh elections to the three posts.

Sources said the ministry had sent a show cause notice to the AFI following the September 13 Delhi High Court order that came in a writ petition filed by lawyer-activist Rahul Mehra.

Mehra had challenged the elections on several grounds, but most importantly on the ‘restrictive clause’ that tried to prevent new entrants from contesting, in his argument.

The court ordered that the government look into the arguments put forward by Mehra and ensure that elections were held as per rules and the Sports Code.

The court stated that in case the elections were found not to be in conformity with the code then no recognition should be granted and the ministry would also enforce the sanctions arising out of the consequences.

Both AFI and Mehra were given hearings by the ministry before the process was completed to issue a directive.

The court had asked the government to give a ‘reasoned order’ on the matter.

Adille Sumariwalla, who was elected president at the April elections, and C.K. Valsan, elected secretary last time, are expected to contest again.

Treasurer Satyanarayana, a Railway employee, had not taken permission from his employer before contesting, as required under the Central Civil Services (Conduct) rules. He had reportedly informed the federation that he was not in a position to continue even before the government action came.

That there is no immediate suspension of the federation and only a de-recognition threat if corrective measures were not taken has come as a relief to the athletes.

Even otherwise, the ministry had recently made it clear that it would not allow athletes to suffer because of any action initiated against any federation.

Alternative mechanisms for providing support to athletes, were being put in place, the Sports Minister, Jitendra Singh, had assured.

The AFI had already indicated that it was ready for amending its constitution and holding fresh elections.

It was one among 20-odd National federations controlling Olympic sports that had agreed, at least in principle, to the Sports Code more than a year ago.