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By Suresh Menon
There were three bumps the Supreme Court in India had to negotiate to bring some sanity to the manner in which the Board of Control for Cricket in India functions.
The first, legal, was dealt with easily enough. Having allowed the elections to go ahead and allowed N Srinivasan, the President to contest and win, there was little sense in then keeping him from doing his job. The earlier decision to keep him away for a period till the cases against him were resolved was now changed so he could discharge the duties he was elected to do.
Secondly, there was the moral question. Could the BCCI (read: Srinivasan) be the investigative agency, judge and jury in the inquiries into the shenanigans in the IPL, from spot fixing to owner-involvement in betting which dramatically reduced the credibility of the richest cricket tournament in the world? Especially since the son-in-law of the President himself was involved? No, said the Supreme Court, we will appoint a three-man committee with a highly respected judge in charge and give him another judge to work with.
Finally, and most importantly, it decided that the three-man committee’s report would be submitted within four months and submitted to the Supreme Court, not the BCCI. As an aside, the BCCI were ordered to pay the expenses for the whole exercise.
In a period when the courts in India are ensuring that the powerful who break the law are getting their comeuppance – from former Railway Minister to a host of other senior politicians – there is some confidence in the country that the BCCI might also be brought in line. Justice Mukul Mudgal, in charge of the investigations, is a cricket-lover, and involved in working out the national sports policy. He is keen on bringing the BCCI into the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The nationwide hope is that he will be given access to the police records and have the freedom to interview everybody concerned. The earlier committee (appointed by the BCCI) was not given access even to the board’s records and based on the limited information it had gave the BCCI a clean chit. A fairer response would have been “insufficient information available to draw conclusions from.”
But that is in the past now, and all eyes are on Justice Mudgal and his new court-appointed committee.
“Had I been Srinivasan, I would have hanged my head in shame and quit,” one official said, but the President chose to give the developments a favourable spin, concerned only with the fact that he could now function at the top although he has been ordered to keep away from IPL matters. This means he may or may not be involved in the IPL auction due late this year or maybe early next – but there’s enough time to work around that.
The board sees nothing demeaning in the fact that the matter had to be resolved, or at least a resolution had to be initiated, by the highest court of the land. This is no rap on the knuckles but a serious indictment of the system which runs a multi-billion industry and influences the way the sport is played and administered across the world.
At the time of writing, the terms of reference haven’t been laid out for the new committee. We’ll know more when that happens. In the midst of the various conflicts of interest and internal inconsistencies of board policy, it is refreshing to have an outside agency, one with no axe to grind, investigating the problems within the system. In the wake of the cynicism generated by the actions of the BCCI in recent months, this is welcome.