SC Raps BCCI for Objecting to Lodha Panel Recommendations

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday slammed the BCCI for opposing the recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee and seeking to delay the reforms.

A bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla did not accept the argument that the recommendations were not capable of implementation that was made by of senior counsels K K Venugopal, appearing for the BCCI, and Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Cricket Association of Baroda and others state associations. The bench pointed out that the report was intended to streamline cricket administration and to ensure the purity of the game was maintained by the BCCI.

The CJI admonished the counsel opposing the implementation of the recommendations saying, “The easiest thing you want is to delay. We will not let you delay and filibuster the entire exercise (of Justice Lodha panel). We may consider referring back to the panel to have a re-look of some of the issues.”

When the counsel said most state associations were not consulted, the CJI shot back saying, “It was international news that we had formed the Justice Lodha Committee to suggest reforms in cricket. The whole world knew it. Now you come to us and say the recommendations were a bolt from the blue for you and you were not consulted. What were you doing? Waiting at the fence for a written invitation?”

At the outset Venugopal submitted that the Lodha Committee neither informed nor sought the views of past or present BCCI office-bearers about its proposed recommendations despite interacting with them. He claimed that although the Committee had sent questionnaires to the then BCCI president, secretary and treasurer to elicit information on the various issues relevant to the final report, it did not seek their views on the proposed recommendations.

Venugopal added that has the proposed recommendations been shared with the BCCI and its office-bearers before including them in the report, several aspects relating to implementing them could have been clarified and sorted out. He added that they were willing to discuss with the Committee at this stage too.

As the counsel objected to the proposal barring ministers and government servants from holding any BCCI post, the CJI wondered “Why are you so keen to have ministers in BCCI? But at the same time question the presence of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). You want free hand to deal with crores of rupees?”

The counsel also pointed out that the International Cricket Council (ICC) may object to the appointment of the CAG’s nominee as the government representative in the newly structured BCCI as it may constitute ‘government interference’, which could result in the suspension of the BCCI from the ICC. The counsel added that the CAG could remain as an advisor without any voting rights, also clarifying that any ministers on the boards were elected.

The CJI quipped “ICC will question the presence of CAG and not the presence of Ministers. You tell them that CAG is in the board as per the directions of this court. Take him (CAG) on the board in the interest of the game, in the interest of the public so that nothing irregular is nothing unconscionable is done.”

To the objection on the Lodha panel’s recommendation of an age cap for cricket administrators, the bench observed “Lawyers like you get better with age, is that so with cricketers too? I don’t know. We feel 70 is a good age for retirement. At 70, they should sit at home and watch cricket on TV.” The CJI also asked why cricket administrators should wear two hats and have simultaneous memberships in both the BCCI and state bodies.

Venugopal also drew the attention of the bench to the Lodha report’s praise of the BCCI. He said the Indian cricket team is a dominant force in cricket and is at the top of rankings, to which the CJI quipped “Yes, the players have managed despite the BCCI.”

With the BCCI’s raising an objection to the panel’s recommendation of ‘one member per state with a single vote’ saying it will lead to corruption like in the FIFA, the bench observed that if such scandals only occurred once in decades it was hardly a test on the workability of the policy.

On the panel’s recommendation for a drastic reduction in advertisements, the counsel said the present contract until 2018 for international matches is for 8,851 crore rupees and if the suggestion to only allows ads during drinks, lunch and tea breaks is accepted it will have “crippling effect on financial health of the BCCI and adversely impact its ability to carry out its various programmes. It will substantially devalue the broadcast rights and cripple the income of BCCI as broadcasters will only pay a fraction of amount.”

The CJI quipped “The prominent spirit should be viewer enjoyment. Do you mean to say that your commerce should overtake the enjoyment of the game?”

When the counsel said state associations are given 480 crore rupees for the development of domestic cricket, the bench asked if there was a mechanism to monitor how the amount was utilised. The bench then asked the BCCI to furnish details of the money given to each of the states, including the north eastern states and how it is spent and monitored.

The counsel also said the BCCI had benefited greatly from the Lodha Committee report, and is committed to implementing the reforms in its functioning and operations to ensure greater professionalism, transparency and accountability, keeping in mind the underlying objective of better administration of cricket in India.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on March 18 as several associations voiced concern in accepting the report.