Former Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar served as the chief of the Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI)’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) between 2015 and 2018. In his new book A Cop in Cricket, he paints a sordid picture of the administration of cricket in India, saying that the BCCI administrators during his time with the ACSU were not particularly serious about cleaning up things. His account tells us that the administrators of that time, who were specifically appointed to clean up the game, just took things for granted.
He spoke with Sidharth Bhatia for The Wire Talks podcast. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited lightly for style and clarity.
In his career of 37 years in the police, Kumar has been posted in many states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and New Delhi, and has received many awards, including the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service. Among the many high-profile cases he has been involved in was the infamous rape and murder case of Nirbhaya in Delhi, which his team solved successfully, and also the spot-fixing case in cricket which resulted in the arrests of three players, including the fast bowler S Sreesanth.
He joins us as a guest to talk about his book and his stint at the BCCI. Neeraj Kumar, welcome to The Wire Talks.
Neeraj Kumar: Thank you, Sidharth.
Your long career in the police would have been full of ups and downs, but as you say in the book, the BCCI job, which lasted for all of three years, I’m quoting, was “full of ignominy and hurt”. You say much more, but I am just reducing it to these two strong words, we will go into the details as we go along. But could you quickly give us an overview of, why you say this?
Sidharth, the point was that I worked in an organisation [the police force] where I took respect for granted. I took deference and proper treatment for granted because ours is a very regimented setup – the police, I’m referring to. But when I went there [to the BCCI], there was an utter lack of these things. There was, first of all, nobody took notice of me. Nobody wanted me there, I got the feeling. Nobody cared for me. I had an office to begin with. That office was also taken away without informing me. I never got an office thereafter. Whenever I would visit Bombay, I would, you know, sit in one cabin or the other.
And never in my three years did anyone ask me, “What do you think is happening?”; “What is the corruption seen in cricket in India?”, “What do you think we should do?”, “What are your problems?”. I was going after them, giving presentation after presentation, telling them that we require more manpower, we require more resources – but it made no impression on them. It became very clear to me that they are not interested, it was just a box that they had ticked by appointing me and that was the end of the matter.
So you mention even in the book, that the Supreme Court said, Time to clean up cricket’, and it appointed professionals and administrators. But corruption per se, which was really speaking, the Supreme Court’s intention, even the new administration full of an IAS officer and a professional did not care to remove it or even tackle it, or even – as you say – know about it. Why do you think that happened?
I wish I knew. I mean, the whole thing, the entire Supreme Court intervention originated from the 2013 spot-fixing case, that was the starting point. And yet, nobody ever mentioned the term corruption, throughout my three years. Nobody ever talked about it. I went after people, telling them, “I have this problem, that problem. I want to make a presentation to you.” With great difficulty, I got time from them. And even when I got the time and I made a presentation as forcefully as I could, it made no impression on them at all. So that was the ignominy that I was referring to.
You know, the Supreme Court also appointed a committee. If I remember, there was the banker Vikram Limaye, Ramachandra Guha and Diana Edulji, as members and the interim president was Mr Vinod Rai, who called himself the conscience keeper of the nation. Two of them, quit, didn’t they, immediately… soon, after the whole administration was changed?
Yes. Mr Ramachandra Guha, the famous historian, he has mentioned in his book, Commonwealth of Cricket, that he made several suggestions to Mr Vinod Rai and he found that he was not interested; the Committee of Administrators (CoA) was not interested in his suggestions. So, within months of his joining, he quit. And soon thereafter, Mr Vikram Limaye, the banker, also quit. So Mr Vinod Rai was left with just one member, Diana Edulji.
Now, coming to the actual problems that you saw and that you wanted to correct, and you corrected – in a sense, suo moto without any kind of encouragement by the administrators. What were these serious problems that you came across?
What I found was that the phenomena of private leagues had come up. Now, private leagues are formed with the blessings of state cricket associations. You start a league… you may have heard of the Tamil Nadu Premier League, the Karnataka Premier League.
And very soon, they were many more. Like the Rajwada Premier League, the Rajputana Premier League. By then, I had a good network of informants. Most of our informants were players themselves and they would tell us, “So-and-so tournament is going on, and this kind of corruption is being employed.” So we would send our officers, observed what was going on it, and it was clear to the naked eye that everything that was happening during the course of the private league was fixed.
So I had two options: either just keep quiet about it; or do something proactively and try to disrupt them. During the Rajputana Premier League, we involved the local police – that is the Jaipur police. They too observed the game and realised that it was all a big farce that was being played out, all for the purposes of betting and fixing. So, they decided to join hands with us and we disrupted the league, arrested about 20 people, recovered a lot of cash, and other material connected with the betting and fixing. And, thereafter, I’m happy to report to you, that a number of leagues that were planned within the country were abandoned. People realised that if you run an illegal league, a private league, then you are likely to get arrested. Not only will the league be stopped, you can even be arrested. That put the fear of god in them. Either they were fully abandoned, or some of them tried to shift the league overseas.
Including one to Sri Lanka, if I remember.
Yes. Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bahrain, and so on, so forth. Now, we did whatever we could by informing the concerned cricket boards of those countries that this private league – which is patently corrupt – is going to happen in your place, so you should try to ensure that it doesn’t happen there. And I’m happy to report to you that most of the boards responded very positively and eventually those leagues were not held. Now, the point to be taken note of and understood is, that it is possible to ensure that such leagues do not take place. But I’m sorry to say that several years down the line, the leagues have remerged in one form or the other, and my fear is that each one of them is being held only for the purpose of corrupt practices.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong. But if I were to look at it as a layperson, I read your book and I have heard about these leagues, and you said, I think a little while ago, that these were for the express purpose of betting and gambling. If the state body knew that a mini-league was happening in their state, and there was a lot of – to put it colloquially, hanky-panky going on – surely somewhere up the line, I don’t know to what extent, there must have been some kind of official knowledge. Involvement may be too strong a word, but knowledge must have been there that these things are up to no good. Is that the correct conjecture?
Absolutely. It’s not only that. People from the state cricket associations were the main organisers. They were the main organisers of such leagues. The league that we disrupted, and I mentioned to you, the Rajwada Premier League, I have mentioned the name of the cricket administrator from the Rajasthan Cricket Association who was behind that league. So it is not only that it is with the blessings of the state cricket association but organised by them, a member of that association. You are aware of the KPL, you are aware of the TNPL, where again, several instances of corruption have been reported, cases registered, people arrested, and yet they are going on and they are a big draw, as you know.
But how high up does it trickle up? How high does it trickle up, the knowledge? The knowledge, not involvement…
Sky is the limit.
So, it’s, one is constrained to say, as a cricket fan that all is not well with the House of Denmark. Is old-style corruption, gambling, spot-fixing, match-fixing, etc., in danger of returning?
Oh, they are already there.
No no no no, pardon my naivety. Is it already there or is it in danger of returning?
It is already there, very much there.
It has graduated to a different level, where every ball is, you know, every match is pre-scripted. Not only every match, but the outcome of every ball is pre-scripted. Whether it will be a no ball, whether it will be a wide ball. Whether a four will be hit, or six will be hit. Everything is predetermined.
Are you talking in terms of even the [Indian] Premier League? That bad?
No, no. I’m not talking in terms of the Indian Premier League. The Indian Premier League, I have written in my book also, that the top-level cricket is comparatively very much under control. And corruption – if any – is within manageable limits, I am talking of the private leagues, and you name a league, and it is corrupted.
And therefore the spectators may also be part of all of this?
No spectators, I have talked about pitch-siding. There are certain spectators were sitting in the stands. They are passing on information through their mobile phones to their masters. What has been the outcome of a ball, what has happened once a ball was thrown. They give this information, and as I’ve explained in the book, by the time people watch it on the television, there is a time lag of almost 14 to 15 seconds, during which the people who get to know of what has happened in real time, have put their bets on that particular outcome which has already happened. You are watching on your TV set and you see a boundary being hit, but the guy sitting in the say Jhunjhunu knows 15 seconds before you do, that a boundary has been hit. So he puts all his money on the probability of a four being scored and you know everyone else, somebody else puts his money on other outcomes – two runs, three runs, no ball, wide ball. But the fellow who has put his money on a boundary being hit, he rakes in the big bucks.
This will call for a huge operation, no?
Not only operation, it requires strong laws. There are no laws connected with corruption in sports in general, not just cricket alone. So, first of all, we require strong laws and we require the will to fight corruption. And my thesis is that the central sports body, whether it is the BCCI, or say the Indian Hockey Federation, they all have to, if they are sincere, have a very strong anti-corruption machinery. But the pity is the guys who are calling the shots, they themselves are people of dubious reputation. And they are – far from fighting corruption, they are part of it.
So Neeraj, during your tenure there, the new chairman, the interim chairman was Vinod Rai – as I said, a bureaucrat with a clean reputation. There was a new CEO Rahul Johri, and a committee with well-known names. You have persistently said in your book about your three years there, that the BCCI could have been cleaned up then. And you have consistently said to me, just now. Did your departure make any difference? I mean, did it strike them? That things are going wrong. And we should check them out etc? Or was it pure indifference? Because what you have said about the Premier League shows that things actually in some ways got worse.
My departure made one, crucial difference. All the proposals all my ideas that I had given to them, they waited for me to leave. And lo and behold, all of them got accepted and implemented. I had asked for more manpower, the ACSU got more manpower. I’d asked for proper office space and my successor got a proper office space, and so on and so forth. So, whatever, I had recommended, whatever ideas I had quoted, they waited for me to leave and they got implemented.
Now, there was a reason why I had asked that question and your answer gives me the perfect excuse to go into it. Is it possible, the way you’ve written about Mr Rai and Mr Johri, and how you felt let down a few times, and how your proposals were [ignored]… You’ve really boiled it down to a clash of, maybe, personalities. Could it be said that it was because the two sides just did not see eye to eye for some reason, that you feel let down?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so, that it had anything to do with interpersonal relationships. It was not as if we didn’t like each other’s faces. It was just that they didn’t like my outspokenness. They didn’t like the fact that I said it as it was, more often than not. I refused to be subservient to them and I held my ground. And I never tread on their toes unnecessarily. It was they who were trying to treat me shabbily, which I was not prepared to take.
Again, I repeat in a different way, the same point. Is it personal pique that you are now mentioning all these things? Because you say that in the beginning, you say that when you came in and joined, you felt that the BCCI was indifferent – surely at that moment, it could not have been a personality clash or your outspokenness because they hardly knew you. Is it personal pique? Is it a personal lack of rapport? Is it good old-fashioned chemistry not happening?
So please understand, when I joined the BCCI, neither Mr Vinod Rai nor Mr Rahul Johri were part of that board. I was there, but the general atmosphere in the board was that they couldn’t care less about corruption. My sense was that it was a lack of awareness. And I was surprised because they ought to have realised that so much had happened in the immediate, in the recent past, that had led to the entire set of administrators being packed off. I am referring to Mr N. Srinivasan, and, you know, various other people who are packed off because of, you know, complaints of corruption and so on and so forth. So, I had expected that corruption would be a very big deal as far as the board was concerned. But to this date, I have not understood why they haven’t got this basic point, that they should be careful about this.
You mention that they were at that time… No, the irony is simply in the fact that a body set up to clean things was itself not very, shall we say, not very concerned about its own conduct, and allowed so many things to slide. You mentioned that there were allegations of #MeToo and sexual misconduct.
Yeah, that was much later, but it came up.
So the basic point you’re saying, Neeraj, is that this special group of administrators themselves were not very, very… they were very casual about corruption while they were put there to clean the stables, they themselves did not care too much. And things must have definitely got not only wrong, I suspect that there is a possibility that the whole thing was looking too overwhelming, or perhaps too lucrative or, perhaps, you know, that let us continue the way things are going. What was it?
This is the exact point I’m trying to make. See, the 2013 spot-fixing case was not the only scandal that had rocked Indian cricket. After all, the CBI inquiry in 2000 which led to the banning of Mohammed Azharuddin, and three other international players Mr Ajay Jadeja, Mr Ajay Sharma, and Mr Manoj Prabhakar… that had been preceded by the famous or shall we say, the infamous Hansie Cronje case, which had also happened on the soil of India. So there had been a long history of corruption in Indian cricket, but things had come to a head after the 2013 spot-fixing case because it reflected directly on the board and its president had to be sacked. President had to move on the orders of the Supreme Court. So surely, this board should have been very cognizant of corruption in the game. But I do not, till date, I do not understand why it did not strike them to give proper attention to this aspect.
Any conjecture? Why it did not strike them, your own conjecture?
You see my conjecture is that the general spirit in the board is survival, self-survival, and making merry, as long as you know, things go on well. So it is, I think the quality of people who were there… it’s a reflection on them, quite frankly.
General survival, I can understand. Making merry means, surely, to say it’s a very glamorous post to hold?
Yes, a very glamorous post to hold, with many perks of office, and everybody enjoys every bit of it.
I think you begin the book by saying, when you write about landing in Calcutta, that the Calcutta hotel where you were staying in, the players were staying in, the managers were staying, and the lobby was full of hangers-on, and the word you have employed is very interesting too, “It was a circus.” So everyone was having a merry old time and surely in that circus, there must have been some kind of malfeasance possible.
Most certainly. I have already talked about it in detail.
Okay, after the departure of Mr Rai and Mr Johri, now there is an entirely different management running the BCCI. As you know the BCCI is richer than ever before, more powerful than ever before. Do you think some, as you said, lessons have been learned? They’ve implemented most of your recommendations. Do you think Indian cricket today is relatively clean?
See, please understand the biggest scandals in Indian cricket, they were unearthed accidentally. That means it is not as if the police were keeping an eye on the proceedings of a game, or a tournament, and they came across acts of malfeasance or acts of corruption. The police were intercepting telephones in the first case involving Hansie Cronje, with regard to extortion calls coming to a businessman in Delhi. And during those interceptions, they heard the voice of Hansie Cronje and deals being fixed. Similarly, in the 2013 spot-fixing case, we were listening to telephone calls suspecting some terrorist activity. And there we come across talk of cricket going on. Now, we were listening to enter no calls being made in connection with terrorism or extortion and came across [cricket corruption]. It doesn’t mean that all that is going on today is kosher, you know. We don’t know what is going on inside, because we do not know what lies in the background.
The point I’m trying to make is that the game of cricket is not under constant surveillance and that, any wrong that they do will be caught. We are banking on the good sense of the players, and the strict controls that are observed, the anti-corruption education programme that is given to them, and the examples that have been made out of people who have erred in the past. People who have gone the wrong way have been banned and careers have been ruined. So that is an example that has been set for people who are playing the game now. They know that the stakes are very high. If they commit even a minor slip, and if they get caught, they are going to lose their careers. But yet, nobody can say with guarantee that the games are absolutely, absolutely above board.
The stakes certainly are very very high, because the amount of cricket being played, and the money that is being given, and the auctions, and the possibility of an auction… You must have read, there were these minor cases of somebody saying “promising chance to play”, and getting cheated. So all kinds of things must be going on. Women’s cricket is also doing very well, fortunately. As you say, the stakes are very high and so much cricket, anything can be happening…
I’m talking like a cricket fan here.
Most certainly. Most certainly. And we have investigated cases where people have offered places in an IPL team. They have held, you know fake selection trials. They invited people to participate, taking huge amounts of money going to the extent of telling two cricketers that they had been selected. But before they can join the team, they must part with, you know, Rs 15 lakh each and so on and so forth.
So, all this is going on in the background. So, what exactly is happening in the main tournaments? It is hard to say. But by and large, I repeat, the levels of corruption – or the ability of corrupters to compromise the game is minimal. And corruption, if at all, there is in the top game, top strata of the game, it is within knowledgeable limits.
Meanwhile, do you think that the board is now extremely serious about tackling, any kind of corruption scandal on its own? I mean, with its own unit with its own processes, with its own surveillance.?
Sidharth, I have to be honest with you. I’m not aware of what all they are doing at the present to fight corruption in the game. All that I know is that they have given more resources to the anti-corruption unit. That’s all I know. But what exactly is happening, what steps they have taken, I am not privy to them.
Surely, as a fan and as a former chief of the ACSU, you have not lost interest in what’s going on?
No, I have not lost interest, but I won’t be given all the information, the inside information on what is going on.
Ah okay, so you can only hope for the best.
Meanwhile, my last question to you, I was saving up for the last. Neeraj Kumar, what is the feedback you have got for your book, from your advanced reviews, from the interviews, you’ve given? What is the feedback you have got? Especially, from people you have specifically named?
With all humility at my command, I have to share with you Sidharth, that the response has been very encouraging. The reviews have been very positive and I was most concerned about the reaction that I will get, following this book. Nut I must say that I’m very glad with the sort of reaction that I’ve got so far.
No, I think I was very unclear in expressing myself. What is the feedback you have got about the people you have named?
Oh, so so far, none. Feedback from third parties, is that, well, you have invited trouble, you should be prepared to face defamation suits, and so on and so forth. Well, if it comes to that we’ll have to face them.
Okay, well, defamation suits and libel etc. is the order of the day, I suppose, for anyone who writes. I’m sure you are quite familiar with what writers face, so, I think you should be welcoming it. It will boost the sales of your book, to begin with.
That was Mr Neeraj Kumar, former police commissioner of Delhi, and the man who was tasked with the job of cleaning up Indian cricket in the mid-2010s and did a good job, except that he found that he got no support from his bosses, talking about his three-year stint in the Board of Control of Cricket of India. We thank you once again Neeraj Kumar for joining us.