“Where does this end? There has to be some sanctity, some value to the order of the top court of the country, that too delivered by the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court. It should have ended a year back,” said Rahul Mehra, litigation lawyer and more recently a politician, on the sidelines of the Sports Law & Policy Symposium 2017 in Bangalore on Saturday (July 15).
He was discussing the never-ending sequence of events concerning the Board of Control for Cricket in India since the Supreme Court of India accepted a majority of recommendations of the Justice RM Lodha Committee on July 18, 2016 – almost exactly a year ago. The toing and froing has continued, and in the latest update, N Srinivasan and Niranjan Shah, disqualified BCCI officials, have been issued notices for attending a recent special general meeting. On the plus side for the board, Anurag Thakur, the president of the BCCI till recently, was granted relief after his unconditional and unequivocal apology was accepted by the court.
Mehra went on to say that it was a shame that a “Supreme Court order passed by the chief justice of India is something which is still open to a review even after the review has been dismissed”.
“We know what the BCCI is and what sort of lawyers they come up with. You have the bigwigs appearing for the BCCI, almost always, and there isn’t effective representation on the other side,” he added.
“All I can hope and expect is that this will end in the Supreme Court soon and Justice Lodha’s recommendations, as they are, and the judgement of the former CJI will hold… All they (BCCI officials) are fighting about is the age and tenure clause. All these people are interested in their personal fiefdoms, and they know that if this goes, they won’t be able to get their sons and their daughters into the federations and associations. They are fighting for themselves, not the game or anything.” – Rahul Mehra
“I am very disappointed that we can’t bring an end to this litigation. Why are we entertaining all these petitions from the BCCI, its associates, universities, railways … ask any citizen, they will lap up the Lodha recommendations. More than a year was spent, the entire litigation took three years, and we are still discussing if it’s a good principle or a bad principle, and we are discussing amendments.”
Indians are used to legal delays, of course. It’s rarely even remarked upon.
Mukul Mudgal, the former chief justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court who headed the independent inquiry into corruption in cricket in India after the 2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing scandal, was candid in explaining the problem at the symposium: “It’s a very nascent field. My committee drafted the Sports Bill in 2013, after that it has seen several rounds (of tweaks) and I am told it is still undergoing serious overhaul. The other one was the Sporting Fraud Bill, that was done after the IPL (spot-fixing scandal), that is also undergoing bureaucratic overhaul, which sometimes takes a decade.”
Mudgal did not want to speak about the current situation vis-à-vis the BCCI, the Supreme Court and related matters because the matter was in court. But Mehra, who has made a name over the years for calling a spade a shovel, was happy to more than make up for Mudgal’s reticence.
“It’s my understanding that if it had been anyone else (but the BCCI), the petitions would have been thrown out,” he argued. “What is it that the BCCI and its associates are showing the court and what is it that the court is hearing currently? And why is it not getting dismissed? I can’t understand it.
“All I can hope and expect is that this will end in the Supreme Court soon and Justice Lodha’s recommendations, as they are, and the judgement of the former CJI [TS Thakur] will hold, and there will be no further amendment and dilution to what was laid down there. All they (BCCI officials) are fighting about is the age and tenure clause. All these people are interested in their personal fiefdoms, and they know that if this goes, they won’t be able to get their sons and their daughters into the federations and associations. They are fighting for themselves, not the game or anything.”
Speaking specifically about Thakur, Mehra was uncompromising. “Anurag Thakur should have been sent to jail. You can’t at the fag end give an opportunity to a person who right from the start of the contempt proceedings has been saying ‘I won’t apologise’. My understanding was that he really stuck to his affidavit and said he had been driven up this path. Instead of an unconditional apology, he gave a conditional apology.
“But that’s a discussion for the court. Had I ever had an opportunity with this backdrop, somebody from the BCCI would have been sent to Tihar and there are many out there who surely deserve to be in jail.”
While on the podium and then speaking to Wisden India, Mehra suggested that sending a senior BCCI official or two to jail would set a strong precedent. How exactly? “Their arrogance for once will actually be tamed,” he said. “They will not be confident that they can browbeat individuals and institutions and get away from it all. Everyone would have fallen in line and implementing the Lodha recommendations, which have been passed by the court, would have been simple.”
Present at the symposium amidst a clutch of lawyers was Abhinav Bindra, still India’s only individual gold medallist at the Olympic Games and a strong advocate of sweeping reforms in Indian sports governance.
Making it clear that he wouldn’t talk about cricket but focus on Olympic sports, Bindra said in his usual earnest way, “We are talking about governance here, and I don’t know what to say because I haven’t experienced much of it in my career.
“It is changing. Slowly. I wish it were faster. Some associations are moving faster, some are slow in embracing change. I do hope things change, and we professionalise everything. We have good plans and schemes but the problem is in implementing it.”
In some ways, he could have been talking about cricket administration too. Only in some ways, of course, because it needs to be stressed again here that the BCCI has, despite all its faults and shortcomings, done a much, much better job of running cricket than has been the case with the federations – all funded by the government and mostly bossed by politicians – that ‘govern’ other sports. But has the cricket board done the job as well as possible? Perhaps not. Have we had transparent, corruption-free administration? We know what the court thinks about that one.