B R Ambedkar have been brought together, along with a host of Vedic priests and sages, in the Law Commission’s potentially landscape-changing recommendation to legalise betting in India.
The report, titled “Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including Cricket in India”, leaves the final call to Parliament and the state legislatures, and recommends various ways to regulate the betting market. The commission concludes that such a move will generate immense revenue which can be used for “social welfare”, to curb underworld influence, and restrict black money and money laundering.
The commission suggests linking Aadhaar/PAN card to betting for both operators and participants, cash-less digital transactions to help monitor cash flow, limitations on the amount an individual can bet, and makes a distinction between “proper betting” for higher stakes and “small gambling” for people with low income.
To ensure that the “vulnerable sections are protected”, the report recommends that minors and people below the poverty line, those who get subsidies or do not fall within the purview of the Income Tax Act or the GST Act, should be debarred from participating.
It also recommends that match-fixing and sports fraud should be made criminal offences with severe punishments.
However, one member of the commission, S Sivakumar, has filed a separate opinion of dissent, stating that the report isn’t comprehensive enough and doesn’t quite address the social ills that such a legalisation can trigger.
The report was triggered by the Supreme Court which, while considering the Lodha Committee report on cricket, asked the Commission to examine the issue.
The apex court had observed that “…the recommendation made by the Committee that betting should be legalised by law, involves the enactment of a Law which is a matter that may be examined by the Law Commission and the Government for such action as it may consider necessary”.
In its conclusions, the commission states that the existing policy of the Government, the current socio-economic atmosphere in the country, and the prevalent social and moral values don’t encourage betting and gambling.
“Accordingly, the Commission reaches the inescapable conclusion that legalising betting and gambling is not desirable in India in the present scenario. Therefore, the state authorities must ensure enforcement of a complete ban on unlawful betting and gambling,” it states.
But it immediately adds that since a total ban isn’t practical, regulation is a good approach, provided the Parliament legalises betting. “Thus, if Parliament or the state legislatures wish to proceed in this direction, the Commission feels that regulated gambling would ensure detection of fraud and money laundering, etc,” it states.
The core of the report can be best summed up by its reference to Naradasmriti, a treatise attributed to Narada in Indian mythology. “Naradasmriti describes gambling as a lawful amusement, when carried out in public gaming houses… The Naradasmriti and Kautilya (Chanakya), all advocated that gambling should exist under the control of the State,” the report reads.
“Under the control of the state” is the operative phrase that the report has taken to heart.
A reference in the report to Katyayana Smriti, a code of conduct drafted by Katyayana, a Sanskrit grammarian and mathematician, probably comes closest to the report’s recommendations. “If gambling cannot be stopped in the kingdom, it shall be regulated… The King should impose tax on gambling and make it a source of income. Gambling could be carried on openly after payment of tax to the King,” it states.
The commission also took in the suggestions they received on how legalising betting will generate considerable revenue and employment, help develop tourism as complementary industry and assist law-enforcement authorities.
In its conclusion, the commission summarises the benefits: “…strike at the underworld’s control over the illegal and unregulated gambling industry. Additionally, the revenue so generated by regulating and taxing betting and gambling, may become a good source of revenue, which in turn, could be used for public welfare… It would also enable the Government to effectively curb the menace of black-money generation through illegal gambling.”
The recommendation to make match-fixing a criminal offence is significant as the only reason a few Pakistani cricketers like Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir went to jail in UK was because betting is legal there — and it was deemed that they cheated punters by their act. In a country where betting isn’t legal and fixing and fraud aren’t deemed a criminal offence, the players could not have been punished.
Hindu epics, scriptures and treatises are liberally referenced through the report. The Mahabharata, in particular, receives frequent mention. “The argument that had gambling been regulated in the Mahabharat period, Yudhishtir could not have put his brothers and wife as stakes and perhaps Mahabharat could not have been there, is full of substance,” the report states.
While making a Constitutional argument, the commission has referred to the Constituent Assembly debates that took place on September 2, 1949, when a motion was taken up to add betting and gambling under List II of the Seventh Schedule.
The report notes that the move was “strongly opposed” by Prof Shibban Lal Saksena, Shri Lakshminarayan Sahu and Sardar Hukam Singh. Sahu, it noted, opposed the move by “observing that we were guided by the lofty ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and that the lessons learnt from the Mahabharat were not to be forgotten”.
But the commission states that Dr Ambedkar advocated its inclusion, saying that “if this entry was omitted, there would be absolutely no control over betting and gambling activities at all”. “This stance provided the scope to accommodate different notions of morality prevailing in various states,” the report states.
Current laws don’t support betting, and the commission feels that they should be amended accordingly. The National Sports Development Code 2011 and the Indian Contract Law of 1882 should be modified, it says. The report concludes by quoting former Supreme Court judge, Justice D P Madon, to state that “as the society changes, the law cannot remain immutable” and that “the law exists to serve the needs of the society which is governed by it”.