The decision of the Supreme Court in BCCI vs Cricket Association of Bihar and Others has come as a relief to cricket lovers. The judgment is a departure from the court’s earlier position, when it refused to interfere in the goings on of the BCCI. Many might see this as judicial overreach. But with the BCCI refusing to set its house in order and successive governments caving in to pressure from cross-party alliances that control the board, the court’s activism was the only hope.
First, some background: In December 2007, the IPL governing council, constituted by the BCCI, invited tenders for IPL franchises. India Cements was one of the bidders. N. Srinivasan, managing director and significant shareholder of the company, was then BCCI treasurer. In 2008, by a change in Rule 6.2.4 of the BCCI regulations, administrators were allowed to hold commercial interest in the IPL and Champions League T-20. A challenge to this amendment was rejected by the SC, though, in a dissenting note, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra warned of conflict of interest. In 2013, when Delhi Police received information about match fixing in the IPL, Srinivasan’s son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, and Raj Kundra, an equity holder in Rajasthan Royals, were alleged to be involved. The constitution of a probe commission by the BCCI, to look into the allegations, was challenged in the Bombay High Court, which held it to be invalid but didn’t grant any further relief. The HC’s order was appealed by both parties in the SC.
There were various issues up for the court’s consideration. The first was about BCCI accountability. An earlier constitution bench of five judges had already held that the BCCI is not a state body. The court got around this by stating that since the BCCI performs a public function, it would come under the writ jurisdiction of HCs under Article 226 of the Constitution. The SC went a step further and declared that a body like the BCCI is subject to the same standard of accountability applicable to judicial review of “state” action. While the court did not find any technical or procedural infirmity in the manner of the amendment to Rule 6.2.4, it held the change to be invalid as it violated some basic principles of law. In an analysis with far-reaching implications, the court declared that any “deviation, abrogation, frustration or negation” of the principles of “justice, fairness, good conscience, equity and objectivity” would be opposed to public policy. On this touchstone, it found the amendment to be invalid as it “permits, protects and perpetuates situations where administrators can have commercial interests in breach or conflict with the duties that they owe to the BCCI”.
The other issues relate to individual acts of betting. These have implications under criminal law. Indeed, criminal proceedings are already under way against Meiyappan, Kundra and others. The SC judgment does not pass any order on the criminality of the individuals involved. However, the individuals and franchisees were liable to disciplinary action under the BCCI’s rules and regulations. Of course, this requires fact-finding, different from a police investigation, for which the court constituted the Mudgal Committee, whose conclusions have been accepted by the SC. Meiyappan and Kundra were held to be “team officials” of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals, respectively, and involved in betting. This violates the BCCI’s rules and regulations, including its anti-corruption code. Instead of the BCCI being left to determine punishment, a separate committee has been constituted for the purpose. Though justified in this instance, one hopes this does not set a trend.
On Srinivasan, though the court found insufficient evidence to suggest his involvement in a cover up, owing to his conflict of interest, he and others have been barred from contesting elections for any BCCI post as long as they hold commercial interests in BCCI events. This perhaps, opens a window for Srinivasan to make a comeback. However, if CSK’s franchise is terminated because of misdemeanours by its officials, should Srinivasan be allowed to contest again? In the commercial world, it is not uncommon for regulators to declare persons unfit to hold certain offices if they or their ventures have been involved in “improper conduct”. The BCCI is unlikely to address this issue on its own.
It is clear from the judgment that the court has gone as far as it could. It has given hope to those seeking transparency in the functioning of sports bodies. Considering that the BCCI has been receiving numerous government concessions, bringing it under the RTI Act is another battle worth fighting. The lion’s share of the responsibility for the clean up falls on the government. Unfortunately, the political bosses are too deeply involved in the goings on at the BCCI to push for external regulatory oversight.
The writer is partner, Sarthak Advocates and Solicitors, Delhi.