Batting with the sword of Damocles

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The BCCI response to the Lodha committee has been schizophrenic. It seems to consistently confuse the interests of its current high officials with the interests of cricket administration in India.

There has been a flurry of activity recently at the BCCI as it continues to resist the implementation of recommendations of the Lodha committee in accordance with a ruling by the Supreme Court of India. The Lodha committee, to its credit, is doing its best to hold the BCCI’s feet to the fire. This has invited some interesting commentary which is largely sympathetic to the BCCI. The >editor of Wisden India argued , for instance, that if the Supreme Court “really wants to clean up Indian sport, it should look first to the Olympic Association and the federations that have run hockey and football into the ground. There might be a lot wrong with Indian cricket, and the way the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has administered it down the years, but it’s certainly not broken like other sports are.” Online comment boards are peppered with observations about “government overreach” and “judicial overreach”. It is worth recalling how matters reached this point.

In May 2013, three Indian cricketers participating in the Indian Premier League (IPL) were arrested by Delhi police under Section 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly fulfilling promises they had previously made to bookmakers. After this news broke, the IPL’s governing council appointed a three member commission comprised of the then BCCI Secretary Sanjay Jagdale and two former high court judges, R Balasubramanian and T Jayaram * (Sanjay Jagdale resigned from this commission almost immediately). This commission was mired in controversy almost immediately after it emerged that some members of the IPL’s governing council were not aware that it has been constituted. Nevertheless, by July 2013, this commission had completed its inquiry and found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Raj Kundra and Gurunath Meiyappan, two men who were top officials of different IPL franchises.

The Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB), which is a member association of the BCCI initiated a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court in response to these exonerations by the IPL appointed inquiry commission. The Bombay High Court ruled that the commission had not been constituted legally and that the matter would have to be reinvestigated.

The BCCI did not constitute a new committee to investigate the matter despite the Bombay High Court ruling. The high court did not create an inquiry committee either. This prompted the CAB to appeal to the Supreme Court. The BCCI also appealed the Bombay High Court order on separate grounds, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear both appeals against the Bombay High Court order together. The BCCI’s position was that its probe panel was legal. After hearing these appeals, the Supreme Court constituted a committee to investigate alleged corruption in the IPL. This committee was headed by the former high court judge Mukul Mudgal and came to be known as the Mudgal committee.

Contrary to the findings of the IPL appointed committee, the Mudgal committee found evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra and several other persons. On the basis of these findings, the Supreme Court instructed the then BCCI President N Srinivasan to step down. The Court’s view was that this was necessary in order to ensure a fair investigation of the IPL corruption scandal. The Mudgal committee submitted its final report in November 2014.

This is not a case of judicial or governmental overreach. It is a case of an extremely wealthy private society resisting scrutiny and reform of its cosy arrangements even though these arrangements have left it vulnerable to corruption and maladministration.

The Supreme Court issued several rulings based on the Mudgal committee’s findings. It struck down a clause in the BCCI’s constitution which permitted its officials to hold commercial interests in the IPL. It also appointed the Lodha committee to determine the punishment for Meiyappan, Kundra and their respective franchises. This punishment would have to be according to the rules governing the IPL which had been established by the BCCI. The court appointed the Lodha committee because it did not trust the BCCI to apply its own rules. The Lodha panel was also charged with proposing amendments to the way the BCCI worked with a view towards preventing such fraud in the future.

The Lodha Committee submitted its final report to the Supreme Court of India in January 2016. In this report, the committee recommended sweeping changes to the way the BCCI was structured and run. For much of the first half of 2016, the BCCI challenged the Lodha committee’s recommendations before the Supreme Court. Finally, on July 18, the court ruled that the BCCI would have to enforce the majority of the recommendations.

The BCCI hired former judge Markandey Katju as head of a legal panel to liaise with the Lodha committee as it implemented the court’s ruling. Since then, the BCCI has been been dragging its feet. Mr. Katju has said that the Supreme Court’s order is unconstitutional. At the same time, the BCCI has agreed to implement some of the recommendations required by Supreme Court. The BCCI has failed to meet deadlines which it agreed to. Stunningly, it was revealed by the chief of BCCI’s legal cell that it has not met for two months to discuss the Lodha committee report!

The Supreme Court of India can take suo moto cognisance in a matter and get involved. However, in this case, it has not done this. The Court’s involvement is due to a dispute between the CAB and the BCCI. The Lodha committee’s recommendations are obviously detrimental to the personal interests of several current BCCI office holders. One of them, the former BCCI President Sharad Pawar resigned on July 24 in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling in order to comply with recommendations.

The BCCI response to the Lodha committee has been schizophrenic. It seems to consistently confuse the interests of its current high officials with the interests of cricket administration in India. This is not a case of judicial or governmental overreach. It is a case of an extremely wealthy private society resisting scrutiny and reform of its cosy arrangements even though these arrangements have left it vulnerable to corruption and maladministration.

In the IPL era, the BCCI has been unable to prevent scandal. This continued filibuster of the Lodha committee’s recommendations is detrimental to the game as well the BCCI. Even if some of the Lodha committee recommendations are poorly conceived, it will be better for the BCCI to enforce them, and then reform them in the future instead of resisting them in its current compromised state.

*( The sentence in parantheses was added to preclude the implication that Jagdale was responsible for the work done by the original IPL-appointed commission.)

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