With the BCCI declining to provide an undertaking by Friday that it will abide by all directions of the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha panel, the apex court said it would pass orders tomorrow to put an end to the “defiance” of the cricket board and make sure “public money” is used transparently.
A bench, led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, said the BCCI’s approach was “very unfortunate” and regretted that the panel was forced to make a plea for replacing the cricket body’s management with a panel of independent administrators to facilitate reforms.
The bench decided to reserve the matter for orders on Friday after the BCCI’s counsel Kapil Sibal said it would not be possible for the board to furnish an undertaking in a day, while stating in unequivocal terms that it would comply with the Lodha panel’s recommendations.
“We will not waste our time in such matters when there are thousands of people languishing in jails only because their cases cannot be heard. You give to us an unconditional undertaking that you will abide by all directions of the Lodha committee…or we will pass orders,” the bench had told Sibal.
The bench had sought a solemn statement from the BCCI that not only would it stop any further disbursement of money to state cricket associations but also that the funds already distributed shall be deposited safely in bank accounts.
At this, Sibal and senior lawyer Arvind Datar pointed out that the domestic season was already underway and state associations had their teams playing matches across the country. “The entire season will have to stop. It was because the Lodha panel had said that domestic grounds will have to be avoided that Tamil Nadu and Mumbai are playing a Ranji match in Haryana’s Rohtak. Who pays for their travel and other expenditure? Please don’t hurt cricket. Let the game not suffer,” appealed the lawyers.
The bench was irked over the fact that BCCI had given money to the state associations despite their refusal to accept the new memorandum of associations proposed by the Lodha panel, which was set up to usher in more transparency and accountability in the game’s governance. It also took exception to Sibal’s contention that the money belonged to these associations.
“Season or no season…we don’t care about your season. Transparency and fairness must be there. Everyone needs to cooperate with the Lodha panel. You must make your stand clear first. If you yourself are acting in defiance, what’s the point…this defiant attitude won’t lead you anywhere. And it is nobody’s money. It is public money. You discharge a public function and this money must be used transparently,” the court told the BCCI.
The bench asked Sibal and Datar why the BCCI was giving money to state associations if they were not paying heed to the mandate of the Lodha panel. “You say state associations are not agreeable and therefore, the new memorandum was not adopted. Stop paying them. They cannot keep getting money and say at the same time that we won’t reform. If you are so keen on them playing matches, make them comply. Stop your funds. You cannot give money to those who don’t listen to you. They must fall in line or forego their money,” it said.
The court said that these local bodies survived because of the money they got from BCCI although Datar pointed out that the funds given to the state associations last month was due to them since 14 months and that it was not a fresh disbursement.
Stating that BCCI did not have any control over these associations since they were registered under separate statutes, Sibal sought a week’s time to let the BCCI persuade them to adopt the new MoA. He said that the bench could pass a judicial order on the next date if the state associations do not agree.
But the bench said that there was no question of persuading anybody, and that the BCCI will have to stop giving money to them.
Earlier, amicus curiae and senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium supported the Lodha panel’s plea to replace the entire top brass of BCCI with a panel of administrators in the wake of their alleged resistance to reforms. He also pleaded that the court should haul up the BCCI for civil and criminal contempt.
At this, the bench noted that BCCI’s office-bearers were elected and most of them did not have any specific qualifications. “They (Lodha panel) have been forced to a situation where they are asking for superseding of the entire top management of BCCI. It is coming from a court-appointed panel that has highly respected members. It is very unfortunate that things have come to such a situation. You should not only say that you have high regard for this court but this should be visible in your deeds, too,” the bench told the BCCI.