Not above board

Print edition : February 11, 2005

While allowing the Board of Control of Cricket in India to convene the AGM to ratify the election of new office-bearers, the Supreme Court strongly criticises the way in which the board functions.

in New Delhi

Jagmohan Dalmiya.-V.V. KRISHNAN

THE Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), the apex body that administers the game in the country and lays down its laws, was formed 75 years ago. It is a society, registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. It enjoys a monopoly status as regards regulation of cricket under the terms of its Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association. The BCCI, inter alia, enjoys tax exemption and other benefits such as the right to use any stadium across the country at a nominal annual rent. It earns a huge revenue by selling tickets for cricket matches and by selling the rights to broadcast them live on television.

The BCCI's membership generally includes the State cricket associations. As a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), it represents the country in international fora. It has the authority to select players, umpires and officials to represent the country in international events and exercises total control over them. Without its recognition, no competitive cricket involving Indian players can be hosted within or outside the country. In the words of the Supreme Court Bench, which delivered its order in connection with the election of its office-bearers on January 10, the BCCI's control over the sport of competitive cricket is deep, pervasive and complete. With cricket becoming the most important revenue-earning sport in the country, it is natural that the administration of the Board itself should come under intense public scrutiny, leading to demands for greater accountability of those at the helm of its affairs and more transparency in its functioning.

The BCCI is perhaps the world's richest cricket association, considering that India boasts the highest number of cricket fans, who constitute the Board's major source of revenue.

The opportunity to control the huge purse and the privileges that go with it hence constitute the prime reason why every election for the office-bearers of the BCCI is preceded by intense lobbying by rival contenders to secure the requisite majority among its 30 members, who represent the various State associations. The BCCI's constitution provides for annual elections at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) for all posts, with a bar on re-election of an incumbent president beyond two consecutive years, "provided that the General Body may in its discretion re-elect the same person as president for the third consecutive year". The outgoing president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, has completed three consecutive years in office. It was in this background that a special AGM was called on September 12, 2004, in Kolkata, to invite him to take over as patron-in-chief and represent the BCCI at the ICC so that the Board did not lose his services because of the limitations imposed by its constitution. The creation of the post of patron-in-chief was mooted by Dalmiya's admirers in the Board. The election held at the AGM in Kolkata on September 29 for the post of president was perhaps the first in which the rival factions within the Board were evenly placed, with both claiming equal strength. Punjab Cricket Association chief and former BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra nominated Nationalist Congress Party president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar as his candidate.

Ranbir Singh Mahendra, secretary of the Haryana Cricket Association, was Pawar's rival. Mahendra won the election by one vote, with the obvious backing of Dalmiya. Dalmiya's detractors questioned the fairness of the election, alleging that as chairman at the time of the election, he did not allow D.C. Agashe, chairman of the Maharashtra Cricket Association, to participate in the AGM on the specious plea that there was a dispute over the management of the association. Agashe is a Pawar-supporter and his vote was crucial for Pawar's victory.

Dalmiya, his critics allege, improperly exercised his franchise twice, first as a member of the Board, and again to offer his casting vote in favour of Mahendra when there was a tie as the two candidates polled 15 votes each.

The AGM was adjourned on September 29, and the election of the new office-bearers could not be ratified. A Chennai civil court, in its interim order on September 28, restrained the BCCI from passing resolutions confirming the nomination of Dalmiya as patron-in-chief for three years. On the same day, the Madras High Court appointed S. Mohan, a former Supreme Court Judge, as Commissioner to take necessary decisions on the qualification and nomination of candidates and the conduct of elections. The BCCI was prohibited from disqualifying any member from contesting or voting. The Board then gave an undertaking to the High Court that it would not disqualify any candidate for the post of president on the grounds of residence. This paved the way for the High Court to withdraw its order appointing Justice Mohan as commissioner to conduct the elections. The AGM was finally held under the chairmanship of Dalmiya. The stakes were high for Dalmiya because after having been invited by the AGM to take over as patron-in-chief, it was imperative that he had the office-bearers of his choice to accept and fulfil the invitation.

On October 8, the Division Bench of the Madras High Court, expressing dismay that the Board had not kept its undertaking not to disqualify any member, appointed Justice Mohan interim administrator of the Board. On an appeal by the Board against the decision, the Supreme Court in an interim order on October 11 stayed the High Court's order as also the nomination of Dalmiya as patron-in-chief.

Ranbir Singh Mahendra, who was elected BCCI president.-DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

In its January 10 order, the Supreme Court permitted the BCCI to reconvene the AGM to ratify the election of the office-bearers, as without this formality the previous office-bearers would continue to exercise their responsibilities beyond their tenure, thus creating an anomaly.

The Bench, comprising Justices N. Santosh Hegde and S.B. Sinha, said the October 11 order on the appointment of an interim administrator would be absolute. It did not, however, pass any order regarding the nomination of Dalmiya as patron-in-chief and the BCCI's recommendation nominating him as its representative to the ICC, as the same is a subject of litigation before a Chennai civil court. The AGM could meet, even if it could not pass any resolutions on these issues, as directed by that court, the Bench said.

It directed the Madras High Court to dispose of the petitions filed by Netaji Cricket Club and others challenging the holding of the AGM as expeditiously as possible. It made it clear that it was open to an aggrieved party to question the legality or validity of the September 29 AGM. Counsel for the BCCI, A.M. Singhvi, informed the Bench that the post of patron-in-chief was an ornamental one with no power or official authority in the management of the Board.

Although the Bench did not pass any orders on the recent controversies facing the Board, it expressed its opinion in the form of obiter dicta on the BCCI's affairs as follows:

"In law, there cannot be any dispute that having regard to the enormity of power exercised by it, the Board is bound to follow the doctrine of fairness and good faith in all its activities. Having regard to the fact that it has to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of millions (of cricket fans), it has a duty to act reasonably. It cannot act arbitrarily, whimsically, or capriciously. As the Board controls the profession of cricketers, its actions are required to be judged and viewed by higher standards."

The Bench added: "It is wholly undesirable that a body in charge of controlling the sport of cricket should involve in litigations completely losing sight of the objectives of society. It is furthermore unfortunate that a room for suspicion has been created that all its dealings are not fair. The Board has been accused of shady dealings and double standards."

It pointed out that the rival contentions necessitate a deeper probe and scrutiny. "The events leading to these appeals raise an abysmal picture and a sordid state of affairs," it lamented.

The Bench was forthright in its criticism of the BCCI's functioning: "The High Court (Madras), having regard to its September 29 order, may have to consider as to whether the election was held in accordance with the constitution of the Board and the rules and bye-laws framed by it. The conduct of the Board furthermore is not above board. The manner in which the Board had acted leaves much to desire."

The Bench curiously went into the question of the fairness of the September 29 elections though it did not pass any orders. It said: "The question as to whether the Maharashtra Cricket Association has unjustly been deprived of its right to participate in the AGM through Agashe whereas DDCA [Delhi and District Cricket Association] and the Rajasthan Cricket Association had been allowed to participate therein is a question which would require deeper probe and detailed scrutiny." It was pointed out by counsel that both these cricket associations were involved in litigations concerning the management of their affairs but they were not prevented from participating in the AGM.

Besides, Agashe represented the Maharashtra Cricket Association at the September 12 AGM when an invitation was extended to Dalmiya to become the Board's patron-in-chief. The Bench questioned the Board's action thus: "Different standards cannot be adopted by the Board, namely, one for the purpose of requisitioned meeting for inviting Dalmiya to become the patron-in-chief of the Board and other for the purpose of attending an AGM. In other meetings, the Maharashtra Cricket Association had admittedly been represented by Agashe. It is also doubtful whether the Board could have gone into, if at all, the validity or otherwise of the meeting of the Maharashtra Cricket Association held on September 27, 2004."

These observations of the Bench are bound to cast a shadow over the proceedings of the AGM scheduled for January 27 in Kolkata.

Asked whether Agashe would represent the Maharashtra Cricket Association at the AGM, S.K. Nair, honorary secretary of the BCCI, told Frontline: "It is for the concerned associations to decide who would represent them at the AGM. We will then examine the decision after it is communicated to us before the AGM begins."

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