Amid a raging controversy over the Haryana Sports Department’s over-a-month-old notification asking sportspersons to deposit a certain part of their income from professional sports and commercial endorsements to the State exchequer, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Friday put the order on hold.
While assuring just consideration of all issues affecting sportspersons and saying the State was proud of their immense contribution, Mr. Khattar in a tweet said: “I have asked for the relevant file of the Sports Department to be shown to me & the notification dated 30th April to be put on hold till further orders.”
According to the order, sportspersons who are accorded “leave without pay” for participation in professional sports or commercial endorsements need to deposit one-third of their income from these engagements to the Haryana State Sports Council for development of sports.
However, in case a sportsperson is treated on duty with prior approval of the competent authority during the said engagement, he will need to deposit the entire amount.
The controversy flared up after a few prominent sportspersons from the State took to twitter during the day to slam the government for the controversial order following reports in a section of the media.
In a scathing tweet, Olympic medallist wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, in an obvious reference to Principal Secretary, Sports and Youth Affairs Department, Ashok Khemka said the officer had been issuing “irrational orders” since he was posted in the department and would be cent percent successful in bringing about the downfall of sports in the State.
Mr. Dutt told The Hindu over phone that the government had no role in the making of sportspersons and hence cannot claim their income.
He said the Haryana government had even failed to honour players who had brought laurels to the country in the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, and that all this had happened after Mr. Khemka joined the department.
Two-time Commonwealth Games boxing medallist Manoj Kumar said a sportsperson puts in several years of hard work to be able to make a living for himself and his family and it was wrong for the government to seek a share in it.
“Instead of giving jobs to the players, the present government is seeking their income. It is a black law. I condemn it,” said Mr. Kumar.
In a tweet, another Commonwealth Games gold medallist and renowned wrestler Babita Phogat said sportspersons were no longer the pride of the State and have become a liability. “This notification will hamper an athlete’s preparation. How can the government give such an order? We pay taxes over whatever we earn and now this notification to pay one-third...” she said.
Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and All-India Congress Committee communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala also criticised the government order in their tweets.
Money to be used for the development of sports
Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Anil Vij had also defended the move, insisting it was not aimed at income generated from amateur sports.
“... here we are talking about income from professional sports,” he said.
“It is government’s old rule/service rule, Rule 56, as per which if any government employee generates commercial income or professional income, then he shall have to deposit one-third of such earnings,” he added.
The athletes employed with the State government include star boxers Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar, both of whom are DSPs in State police, hockey captain Sardar Singh and wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat. Sardar, Geeta and Babita are also employed with the Haryana Police.
Some other Haryana athletes, not employed with the State government, also reacted with shock.
“I have not yet seen the notification, I am only coming to know of it through media reports. I can only say that the athletes who compete in Olympic sports are already from very poor families,” said double-Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, who is with the Railways Sports Promotion Board.
“The government should make policies which encourage athletes. I haven’t heard of such a policy anywhere else in the world. The athlete should be competing with a free mind, not with stress like this,” he added.
There were political reactions to the move as well with Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar saying that the move will demoralise the players. The party’s Rohtak MP Deepinder Singh Hooda said the present government has made a mockery of the State’s athlete-friendly policy.
The Haryana government had earlier stirred up a controversy when it decided to reduce the prize money for those Commonwealth Games medal winners from the State who were employed with other departments or states.
The felicitation function planned for the prize money distribution on April 26 had to be eventually cancelled indefinitely when the athletes threatened to boycott it.