SC nod to Lodha panel changes; Pawar, Srinivasan hit dead end

SC nod to Lodha panel changes; Pawar, Srinivasan hit dead end

SC nod to Lodha panel changes; Pawar, Srinivasan hit dead end
The far-reaching reforms in BCCI recommended by the Lodha Committee today got the stamp of approval from the Supreme Court that will keep former czars like Sharad Pawar and N Srinivasan out because of the age-cap of 70 on those occupying posts in the cash-rich body as also ministers and civil servants.

When implemented, the Justice R M Lodha Committee recommendations could also put an end to the tenure of BCCI President Anurag Thakur and Secretary Ajay Shirke from holding top posts in their state associations--Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra--respectively.

The key recommendations, which found strong favour from a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, also included nomination of a member of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India and Accountant General in BCCI and state cricket boards respectively to bring financial transparency in them.

The bench approved the recommendation favouring one state-one vote and one member-one post besides asking the Parliament and the Law Commission to mull over suggestions to bring BCCI under the purview of Right to Transparency Act and legalise betting in cricket.

"We accept the report submitted by the Committee and the recommendations made therein with such modifications and clarifications...", the verdict, penned by Justice Thakur, along with Justice F M I Kalifulla said while fixing a six- months deadline for the implementation of the recommendations.

At the outset in the 143-page verdict, the bench, which rejected the vehement pleas of the BCCI and some of its members against the recommendations, said "'Change' it is famously said is all that is constant in the world. And yet the world hates change, no matter, it is only change that has brought progress for mankind."

Dealing in detail the issue of one state-one vote, the court seconded the recommendation saying "...This is a measure which has been recommended with a view to structurally streamlining the BCCI to make it more responsive and accountable having regard to the aspiration of different regions for an equal opportunity to participate in the growth and promotion of the game in the country..."

It then dealt with the facts that states like Gujarat and Maharashtra have three cricket associations each which are full-fledged members of BCCI and said "the only reasonable and rational answer to the problem within the broad principle of One State-One Vote would be to allow the full membership of BCCI to rotate among the three clubs on an annual basis".

"...Some of the clubs/associations, if not all are the founding members of BCCI. That being so, a balance has to be struck with historical reality and the need for adopting a pragmatic, uniform and principled approach aimed at reforming and rationalising BCCI’s structural edifice.

"The recommendation made by the Committee to the extent it provides for one vote for each state is unexceptionable nor should there be any compromise with what is proposed as a reformative measure...," the bench said.

It further said, "We see no merit in that contention nor do we see any reason to disagree with the recommendation made by the committee, who has upon a thorough consideration of all facts and circumstances relevant to the working of the BCCI, recommended the conversion of the clubs and associations without a territory from full members to associate members.

"This is a measure which has been recommended with a view to structurally streamlining the BCCI to make it more responsive and accountable having regard to the aspiration of different regions for an equal opportunity to participate in the growth and promotion of the game in the country."

The apex court favoured the suggestions that the status of clubs and boards like Railways Sports Promotion Board, Association of Indian Universities, Services Sports Control Board, National Cricket Club (Kolkata) and Cricket Club of India (Bombay) be not considered as full members as "they do not represent any geographical territory".

The court then dealt with the age limit of 70 years fixed by the panel for the cricket administrators and said it is not "unreasonable or irrational by any standard".

"There is no denying the fact that cricketers who play competitive cricket generally fall in the age group of 18 to 35 years. This implies that even after retirement from active cricket anyone who has the potential to contribute to the game can do so for over three decades till he attains the age of 70 years.

"The upper age limit recommended by the Lodha Committee is not, therefore, unreasonable or irrational by any standard. That apart, as rightly pointed out by the counsel supporting the recommendation, the government of India has in the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011, inter alia, stipulated that the President, Secretary and the Treasurer of any recognised National Sports Federation including the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) shall cease to hold that post on attaining the age of 70 years.

"The upper age limit of 70 years is not, therefore, an unusual or unacceptable norm so as to warrant our interference with the same. The recommendation made by the Lodha Committee regarding upper age limit for office bearers is accordingly accepted," the bench said.

Regarding barring ministers and bureaucrats from entering the apex cricket body, the court rejected the contention that the posts are honorary in nature and the BCCI is beneficiary of their administrative skills.

Referring to the comprehensive deliberations undertaken by the panel on the issue, it said "...this court would be slow in interfering, especially when the Committee has recommended comprehensive restructuring of the management at different levels by proposing modification of the relevant rules and regulations.

"The Committee has in its wisdom found that the holding of office by the ministers and civil servants in the state associations or in the BCCI is not conducive to the health and promotion of the game.

"The Committee has taken the view that the game would be better managed, promoted and developed if politicians and civil servants who otherwise occupy positions of responsibility in the government that call for their complete and unstinted attention and commitment are made ineligible from holding any post in the state associations or the BCCI."

The apex court, in its verdict, said, "We see no compelling reason for us to reject the recommendation which disqualifies ministers and public servants from holding offices in the state associations or BCCI. The argument that since ministerial and bureaucratic support and patronage has helped the BCCI in running its affairs in the past they should be allowed to continue, lest the game suffers, has not impressed us.

"We do not think that the game flourishes in this country because any minister or civil servant holds office in the state associations or BCCI. We also do not find any basis for the argument that unless the ministers and civil servants are allowed to hold office in the state association or in the BCCI they will refuse to do what is legitimately due to the game for its development and promotion."

The bench said that the view of the Lodha panel that one individual should not be holding two posts in state association and in the BCCI simultaneously did not suffer from any "perversity" and hence it did not call for any "interference".

Elaborating the need for greater financial transparency in the cash-rich cricket body, it concurred with the suggestion that there should be a nominee of CAG and AG in BCCI and state cricket boards respectively.

The bench referred to the findings of the panel and said that there have been grievances of stakeholders that the BCCI was "neither fair nor transparent".

"... The Committee has noticed that the state of affairs prevailing in BCCI and the expenses incurred by it call for better financial management and financial prudence," it said.

"... Transparency and financial discipline and accountability are fundamental values to which any authority discharging public functions must be committed to.

"To that extent the BCCI has not faulted the report made by the Committee. What is all the same contended is that the recommendation if accepted may result in the suspension of the recognition of the BCCI as it will be seen by the ICC as Government interference contrary to Article 2.9(B) of the ICC Rules," the bench said.

The bench trashed the contentions of the BCCI against the presence of nominees of CAG and AG in the board saying that they would act as "conscience keepers of the State Association and BCCI in financial matters" and would not "adversely" impact their work of promoting the game of cricket.

The vehement opposition of the recommendation that BCCI would be funding players association was also not accepted by the apex court.

It said that the players who had played the game are "better equipped to understand its nuances, its challenges and concerns relevant to its development and promotion cannot be left out from the management" and favoured the recommendation that two positions in the apex council be filled up by two players - one male and one female, who would be recommended by the players association.

Dealing with the proposed funding of players association by the BCCI, it said that the panel has not specified the extent of such assistance.

"It would, therefore, be reasonable to presume that the extent of financial support which the association may be given is left to the discretion of the BCCI. If that be so, we do not see any merit in the objection raised by the BCCI that such support need not be given or would unduly burden the BCCI.

"An association of cricket players would doubtless give to the cricketing community not only an opportunity to contribute to the promotion of the game but a sense of participation also so very important for the promotion of a game that brings so much joy and feelings of nationalism among our countrymen. Financial support, to the extent possible, having regard to the resources available with the BCCI and its financial commitments in other areas relevant to the game is not therefore an unacceptable idea," the bench said.

The key recommendations of bringing BCCI under RTI and legalising betting in the sport was not approved by the apex court which left these issues to be addressed by Parliament and the Law Commission.

"We are not called upon in these proceedings to issue any direction insofar as the above aspect is concerned. All that we need say is that since BCCI discharges public functions and since those functions are in the nature of a monopoly in the hands of the BCCI with tacit state government and central government approvals, the public at large has a right to know and demand information as to the activities and functions of the BCCI especially when it deals with funds collected in relation to those activities as a trustee of wherein the beneficiary happens to be the people of this country," the bench said.

The bench further said, "As a possible first step in the direction in bringing BCCI under purview of Right to Information Act, we expect the Law Commission of India to examine the issue and make a suitable recommendation to the Government. Beyond that we do not consider it necessary to say anything at this stage."

Legalising betting involves framing of a law which is a matter that may be examined by the Law Commission and the government for such action as it may consider necessary in the facts and circumstances of the case, it said.

The BCCI, however, had its way in matter pertaining to commercials free broadcast of cricket matches as the apex court refused to express any opinion and left the matter to the cricket body to examine from all angles and take a considered decision.

The Lodha panel had said that viewers have a right to watch live matches without any advertisements.

"The proper course, in our opinion, is to leave the recommendation as it is for the consideration of the BCCI with the observation that BCCI may keeping in mind the sentiments expressed by the Committee ensure that the viewers get to see an uninterrupted broadcast of the match from the first till the last ball of the over and limiting the commercial advertisement in terms of time and space to an extent that will not deprive the viewers of the pleasure of watching the game in full," it said.

The verdict also dealt with the recommendation that the IPL governing council be reconstituted so that the IPL franchisee have their voice in it and asked the Lodha panel to re-consider it.

The recommendation proposing cap on the number of terms and maximum number of years for the BCCI office bearers also found favour from the apex court.

"Given the problems that often arise on account of individuals holding office for any number of consecutive terms, the Committee was, in our opinion, justified in recommending the length of a term in office. A three year term recommended by the Committee is, in our opinion, reasonable.

"So also, the prescription of cooling off period between two terms cannot be faulted. Similarly, an optimum period of 9 years as a member of the apex council cannot also be termed as unreasonable," the court said.