The Supreme Court has dropped sufficient hints that it's not going to change its stand on the implementation of the Lodha Committee's recommendations for wholesale changes in the BCCI.
On Thursday, 3 March, the court heard the Board's 'difficulties' in putting into practice the suggestions made by the court-appointed panel.
The court had earlier told the BCCI to 'fall in line' and implement the recommendations and, on Thursday, it patiently heard the Board's counsel for two hours on its 'difficulties', before posting the matter for 18 March.
Maintaining its stand, the bench, headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, asked pointed questions to BCCI's counsel KK Venugopal, when he tried to highlight the good that the BCCI has done for the promotion and development of the game over the years.
As Venugopal read out from the BCCI's affidavit, cricket administrators from the BCCI, the Mumbai Cricket Association, the Cricket Association of Bihar (the original petitioner in the 2013 IPL betting-fixing case that led to the formation of the Lodha Committee) and former India player Kirti Azad (who is leading the "crusade against corruption" in the DDCA) listened in rapt attention.
When the hearing began at 2 pm, Thakur and Justice FMI Kalifulla patiently heard Venugopal initially. But after some time, Thakur said that if the BCCI counsel continued reading, it would go on for the rest of the day.
"You tell us what is not acceptable to you [from the Lodha Committee recommendations]," Thakur said. Then Venugopal took the BCCI's 'difficulties' point by point.
The Lodha Committee had recommended one-state one-vote, instead of the existing structure of the BCCI that, ironically, has no place for states like Bihar and Uttarakhand, while entities like the Cricket Club of India (Mumbai) and National Cricket Club (Kolkata) are full members with voting rights, even though they don't compete in BCCI-organised tournaments.
Thakur politely asked tough questions regarding the anomaly in Maharashtra (four votes) and Gujarat (three), which have multiple cricket associations within their state boundaries. All seven associations in the two states also have voting rights in the BCCI.
"Is there any statutory reason for dividing territories?" asked Thakur.
A few minutes later, while apparently not agreeing with the existing BCCI structure, the Chief Justice wondered what would happen if someone floated a society and said the whole of India was its territory.
The BCCI counsel justified that present structure to the age-old state boundaries that existed when the Board was formed, 87 years ago.
About the funds that the BCCI gives to its affiliated units, the bench asked if it tells them the intended purpose.
"Is there any mechanism to monitor what development has taken place in the states [with this BCCI money]?" asked Thakur. "Is the transfer of money given to keep control over the states and give them a free hand without questions being asked? When you send the money to the states do you make a plan for the states?"
After a while, Thakur told Venugopal: "You give us a chart of the money the BCCI has given in the last five years to states like Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and Sikkim."
Of these, only Tripura is a full member (with voting rights) of the BCCI, while Sikkim and Manipur are associate members. Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are affiliate members, the third and last rung in the Board's hierarchy. Chhattisgarh was an associate member till last month, when it was given the full membership after a long delay.
Venugopal suggested that the court could also ask the states if they had received the BCCI's funds. Thakur countered this with another question: "If the states haven't received money, it means it is still with you. And what did you do with that money?"
When the BCCI counsel raised this issued, the bench raised another question. "Has it [BCCI] gained this position because of commercial reasons?" it asked, referring to Indian teams' high rankings in Test cricket, ODIs and T20Is, mentioned by the BCCI counsel earlier.
The Lodha Committee has also recommended changes in the committee formations, suggesting inclusion of a government nominee. When the BCCI counsel said that the government nominee could be given an advisory role, the bench, in a rare instance of agreement, said it would consider that request.
The bench also agreed to consider Venugopal's argument that if representatives of IPL franchises are made part of the IPL governing council, it would raise a conflict of interest situation.
The bench, however, backed the Lodha Committee recommendation of ministers and government servants being barred from holding positions in the BCCI. When the Board counsel argued that people like the Late NKP Salve had headed the BCCI effectively, the bench said it didn't mean that the tradition could continue. "Do you think the ministers have contributed to the BCCI?" asked Thakur.
The upper age limit of 70 years for administrators is another Lodha Committee recommendation that the BCCI has disagreed with.
Thakur had a suggestion for old administrators. He, in a lighter vein, said: "People at 70 years of age should sit at home and watch the TV and the game being played. Do you think the BCCI is without experienced officials?"
When the counsel of one of the state associations that has raised objections said he was not given a hearing by the panel, Thakur got a bit annoyed.
"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?" he said.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Baroda Cricket Association which faces an exit as a full member, said: "We want to go back to the Lodha Committee with our views for certain amendments in the report."
During the hearing, there indications that the bench would once again turn to the Lodha Committee, and perhaps ask it to tone down a couple of its recommendations, so that they could be implemented.
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