Giving no quarter, even as BCCI or State cricket associations >blamed the Lodha Committee for keeping them in the dark about its recommendations, the Supreme Court on Thursday said it would not allow these cricketing bodies and their administrators to “filibuster” or delay the much-needed reforms to usher purity back into Indian cricket.
“It was international news that we had formed the Justice Lodha Committee to suggest reforms in cricket. The whole world knew it. Now you say the recommendations were a bolt from the blue and you were not consulted first... What were you doing? Waiting at the fence for a written invitation?” Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur countered in a tone laced with sarcasm.
The Bench, also comprising Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, was responding to a batch of complaints from various State cricket associations, all of whom echoed the BCCI’s complaint that they were not kept in the loop by the Lodha panel about the proposed recommendations.
“We want to go back to the Lodha Committee with our views,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Baroda Cricket Association, said.
The court allowed a batch of State cricket associations and former players like Bishan Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad to intervene in the case. It posted the case for further hearing on March 18.
The two-hour hearing focused on the BCCI’s reply to the Justice Lodha report. The Board complained and lauded the Lodha report in the same breath. The hearing saw the Bench subject each one of the BCCI’s objections to either derision or counter-questioning. It asked the Board whether the latter thought its rules were too “sacrosanct” even for the Supreme Court.
One of the questions was why the BCCI and State cricketing bodies have ministers as members. The Lodha report had banned government servants and ministers. The BCCI said people, like former Union Minister N.K.P. Salve, lend “leadership and experience” to cricket administration.
“So just because N.K.P. Salve was there, you want every other minister also to be there? You are finding fault with having a nominee of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on board, but you don’t mind a minister?” the Chief Justice asked senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, who was fielded by the BCCI.
Chief Justice Thakur said ministers may come to appease their own sense of aggrandisement, but why should the BCCI insist on their involvement?
When Mr. Venugopal remained quiet, Chief Justice Thakur smiled and said, “Mr. Venugopal, your silence is eloquent.”
To the BCCI's objection to the Lodha panel’s recommendation on an age cap of 70 years for cricket administrators, Chief Justice Thakur replied, tongue-in-cheek, “Lawyers like you get better with age, is that so with cricketers also? We feel 70 is a good age for retirement. At 70, they should sit at home and watch cricket on TV.”
The court also asked why cricket administrators should wear two hats and have simultaneous memberships in both the BCCI and State bodies.
At one point, an embattled BCCI told the Bench that the Lodha report has praised them for the good work done. Mr. Venugopal said the Indian side is a dominant force in cricket and the team occupies the top spots in T20 and other formats.
“Yes, the players have managed despite the BCCI,” Chief Justice Thakur intervened.
On the BCCI's apprehension that the recommendation for “one member, one State, one vote” would lead to corruption like the one seen in FIFA, Chief Justice Thakur asked how many such incidents FIFA had experienced before.
“If this is the first scandal in 50 or 100 years, it is hardly a test on the policy’s efficiency,” the Bench said.
The BCCI complained that Justice Lodha had recommended voting rights based on territorial boundaries of States and did not take into account historical demarcation of boundaries among members as per the levels of cricket played. This had led to Maharashtra and Gujarat having multiple existing members in BCCI.
“Who gave you the authority to demarcate territories? How can someone start a Cricket association and demarcate the entire country for themselves?” Chief Justice Thakur shot back.
The Bench then asked whether the BCCI does an audit of the money it gives to State Cricket associations.
“You give crores to these State associations run by some politician or bureaucrat and no questions are asked... is this done to ensure they vote in a particular way?” Chief Justice Thakur asked the Board.
The Bench asked the BCCI to submit details of amounts given to cricket associations and their expenditure for the past five years. The BCCI then complained about the Lodha report’s suggestion for a drastic reduction in advertisements during matches. This was done to give top priority to “viewer enjoyment.” The BCCI said this would cripple its finances.
“The prominent spirit should be viewer enjoyment. Do you mean that your commerce should overtake the enjoyment of the game?” Chief Justice Thakur asked.