New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday warned the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that there would be no domestic cricket matches if the board and its member associations did not fall in line with the Lodha Committee reforms.
Hearing the petition related to the report of the Lodha panel, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) T.S. Thakur and Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, gave this indication to the senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who is representing the board.
The CJI said that the BCCI would be asked to stop all payments to the state cricket associations for hosting domestic matches, including the Ranji Trophy. The state associations may also be asked to reimburse Rs 400 crore disbursed by the BCCI on September 30.
Sibal had earlier refused to provide an undertaking that the board would unconditionally implement all the approved recommendations of the Lodha Committee. The CJI told the counsel that the court would pass the orders on Friday.
Sibal, along with senior counsel Arvind Datar, opposed any such intentions of stopping payments to the associations saying that the domestic season was on and Ranji Trophy matches had started, with Tamil Nadu taking on Mumbai in Rohtak today.
Arvind Datar told the apex court that “Then there will be no domestic matches,” to which the CJI shot back, “If matches are to be conducted, they will be held in a transparent manner. Season or no season, we will not allow a penny to be wasted. Objectivity and transparency is more important than seasons.” Sibal said the Lodha Committee had initially given the BCCI a year’s time to complete the implementation of reforms and then suddenly shortened the deadline to September 30.
At the outset, amicus curiae and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam informed the court that despite several emails sent to the BCCI office-bearers, neither the president, nor the secretary appeared before the Lodha panel, and was taking all the steps to not implement the recommendations. The actions of the BCCI were nothing but defiant and pleaded for the supersession of the office-bearers. He also demanded initiation of civil as well as criminal contempt against them to ensure that the majesty of law prevailed.
The CJI asked amicus curiae what qualifications he wanted for the appointment of administrators on an interim basis until the BCCI fell in line with the recommendations, to which Subramaniam said that anyone with unimpeachable integrity could head the panel. When the CJI asked about the qualifications of BCCI President Anurag Thakur, amicus curiae responded that he was a politician.
Sibal said that the BCCI president was a class one cricketer who had played for Himachal Pradesh Ranji team. Another counsel intervened and said that Thakur had played only one match. The CJI said that he had also played cricket for the Supreme Court in a match with the Supreme Court Bar Association.
The CJI also indicated that either the court could appoint the administrators or the BCCI would elects new ones, or the Lodha panel could give the board more time to “fall in line”.
Taking note of the complaint of the amicus curiae, the CJI faulted the BCCI for transferring Rs 400 crore overnight to its state associations and hence going against the recommendations of the Lodha panel.
Justice Thakur said that the BCCI should have exercised transparency when funding state associations and added that an amount as large as Rs 400 crore could not be disbursed overnight.
Sibal and counsel Datar told the court that the matter in question dated back to the 2015-2016 season when broadcasters Star Sports and Sony had compensated the board for the cancellation of a tournament and that money was given to the state associations. They said that a part of payment had already been made and the money that was transferred was only the balance amount.
When the CJI suggested that the associations should be asked not to utilise the funds received from the board, the counsel responded that it was not possible to do so as the matches could not be conducted for the season up to next April.
The CJI told the counsel, “See if you had sought time [to implement reforms] it was fine. We are not on the question of time frame, but this defiant attitude… cricket season or no season, more important is transparency in the dealings.. We will still leave it open. But BCCI should unconditionally agree to comply with the recommendations and also not disburse money to association who are not willing to reform. We cannot continue wasting our time on BCCI; we have other things to do. We have people languishing in jails. Their cases are more important for us”.
Sibal said that majority of the state associations had not accepted the recommendations, and the BCCI had no powers to force compliance from its member state associations as they had a mind of their own.
The CJI in response said that “people want money from you but at the same time they are not ready to reform. Why do you pay money to those who do not listen to you? Nobody can say I want money, but I will not reform. You tell them, ‘if you want money you reform’. Stop payment to all associations who are not ready to reform. To those to whom money has been disbursed, let them refund. Did not the Lodha panel warn you against such unauthorised disbursement?”
The panel in its report noted that several of their emails had gone unacknowledged by the BCCI, while the Indian cricket body also floated a tender for media rights for the India-West Indies Twenty20 International series in August without providing any details of eligibility or qualification, which went against the judgment of the Supreme Court. It also took strong exception to the comments made by Justice Markandey Katju, who has been appointed as a legal counsel to advise the BCCI and its president.
Lodha panel said that the BCCI had repeatedly taken steps to undermine the committee and the apex court with several statements and actions, which were grossly out of order and would even constitute contempt. Listing some of the statements, the report said one of them was the acceptance of the so-called interim report of Justice Katju and then uploading of the same on the BCCI website.