The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favour of cricket and the game’s millions of viewers by upholding almost all of former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha Committee’s recommendations to overhaul Indian cricket administration at the end of a long-inning spanning over two years during which the high priests of BCCI and State associations fought tooth-and-nail to protect their spell over the sport’s running in the country.
In language gently chiding the cricket administrators for their belligerent stance in the court against “change”, a Bench of Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and Justice FMI Kalifulla, who is retiring this week, advised them to let go of their “ego” to help usher in long-needed reform into the cash-rich sport for the sake of the spirit of the game.
“The truth is that resistance to change stems partly from people getting used to status quo and partly because any change is perceived to affect their vested interest in terms of loss of ego, status, power or resources. This is true particularly when the suggested change is structural or organisational that involves some threat, real or perceived, of personal loss to those involved,” Chief Justice Thakur wrote in the 143-page judgment for the Bench.
Uncannily reading the minds of those opposing the Lodha panel recommendations submitted on December 18, 2015, for the court to stamp its authority, the Supreme Court said the sense of justice and fairness personified by Justice Lodha’s work seemed to have “made little or no difference” to those resisting the committee’s conclusions and suggestions.
The apex court found no reason to interfere with the recommendations that effectively overhaul the BCCI’s organisational set-up, memberships and functioning for the sake of transparency and accountability.
Chiefly, it gave full marks to Lodha panel restrictions like ‘One State, One Vote’ or capping an age limit for cricket administrators at 70 or keeping government ministers and bureaucrats out or including a nominee of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) office or a three-year term with a cooling-off period between two successive terms and even the grounds of disqualification, which includes renouncing of position as soon as an office-bearer becomes a government minister.
The judgment cursorily dismisses the BCCI and State Associations’ rejection of Lodha panel recommendation that office-bearers should not enjoy “dual positions” simultaneously on the Board and in State cricket bodies.
The judgment gives the green signal to the panel’s recommendation for overhaul of the existing Committees of the BCCI on the ground that they do not have clearly defined terms of reference.
“The BCCI ought to adopt an approach that would institutionalise the management of its administrative affairs rather than such affairs being run on an ad-hoc basis,” the court agreed.
Supervising the transition It hands over the job of supervising the transition to the Lodha Committee, saying “we hope that the same should be completed within a period of four months or at best six months from today”.
The court asked the panel to draw the timelines for completing the transition while directing the BCCI to approach the Supreme Court, and only the Supreme Court, in case of any further directions are required.
The court agreed that the ‘One State, One Vote’ policy may affect budding cricketers in States having more then one member cricket clubs as in Maharashtra and Gujarat with a long-standing history in contributing to cricket.
To avoid “long drawn litigation and frustration for the players and cricket lovers”, the court suggested that the only way out of the “conundrum” is to introduce a policy of rotation of full membership among the clubs on an annual basis.
“During the period one of the associations would exercise rights and privileges of a full member, the other two associations would act as associate members of BCCI. This rotational arrangement would give each member a right to vote at its turn without violating the broader principle of one State one vote recommended by the Committee,” the court reasoned. Though the court restrains from passing any directions to include BCCI under the ambit of the Right to Information Act, it refers the question to the Law Commission of India to consider the suggestion from the Lodha panel.
On betting Similarly, the court refrains from pronouncing on the panel’s recommendation to legalise betting in the aftermath of the Indian Premier League (IPL) betting scandal that dragged Indian cricket into the mud and triggered the litigation initiated by the Cricket Association of Bihar. Instead, it points out that the question of legalising betting “involves the enactment of a law”.
This again, it refers to the Law Commission and the Centre for action.
Broadcast of matches The court also refused to intervene in BCCI’s complaint that the committee’s recommendation for uninterrupted broadcast of matches through reduced advertisements would have a crippling effect on the financial health of the Board.
Instead of taking sides, the court refers the Committee’s recommendation to the BCCI to find an appropriate solution keeping in mind the spirit behind the suggestion.
Again, the court stops short of passing an order on BCCI’s objection to including representatives of IPL franchisees in the IPL Governing Council.
The Board maintains that this would lead to conflict of interest as the Council decides on players’ retention policy and umpire selection.
Instead, the court refers the recommendation back to the Lodha Committee for a re-look and assures that if the panel reiterates the recommendation it would be deemed that it has received the court’s assent.
Article 19 (1) (c) Chief Justice Thakur rips apart the BCCI argument that it is a private body protected under Article 19 (1) (c) of the Constitution (the fundamental right to form unions or associations or co-operative societies). BCCI argued that no court has the power to regulate or breach this freedom.
The court’s answer is a deft mixture of logic and law. It points out that freedom under Article 19 (1) (c) is guaranteed only to “citizens and citizens alone”.
“Recourse to Article 19(1) (c) is not, therefore, open to juristic or other persons and entities who are non-citizens,” the apex court responds.
Besides, what the court does here is to usher in reform to inspire public confidence in the Board and the game, it adds.
The Lodha panel was not given the job of making “cosmetic changes” but lay the proper foundations for cricket to prosper and reach the masses in an unadulterated form.
“BCCI was discharging public functions and is, therefore, subject to the rigours of ‘Public Law’ making it mandatory for the BCCI to adhere to the principles of reasonableness, fairness, accountability and transparency,” the apex court held.