The battle lines are drawn between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Lodha panel on cricket administration in the country as the Supreme Court takes up the contentious issue of proposed reforms in managing the much-loved game on October 6. While the apex court had appointed the Lodha panel and has thus far reposed great faith in it, accepting its recommendations in toto, the BCCI has rejected some of its key recommendations. Indeed, there is an air of defiance in the BCCI which the Supreme Court will have to contend with. Things have come to a head just the way they did earlier this week in the dispute over the sharing of Cauvery waters in which the Karnataka government defied the apex court repeatedly, refusing to spare Cauvery waters for the downstream state of Tamil Nadu before it finally caved in when threatened with dire consequences in which a threat to dismiss the government was implied.
The defiance by the Karnataka government in the Cauvery case and the hard stand taken by BCCI in the matter of reforms point to the potential erosion in the authority of the apex court which has always enjoyed untrammelled power. It is hard to deny that the moral authority of the Supreme Court has suffered in recent times with allegations of corruption creeping into even the judiciary at large. The unseemly controversy over judicial appointments with the judiciary refusing to part with sweeping authority in matters relating to it has also contributed to the setback. The resignation of one of the collegium members (a judge) from the judicial body in protest over a sense of arbitrariness having permeated the key judicial forum has not helped matters either. While the Cauvery issue was distinctly poorly handled by the judiciary, with such a serious issue as water allocation from the Cauvery to Tamil Nadu being dealt with in a cavalier manner without adequate consultation with experts, in the cricket issue the hearing on October 6 will reveal what stand the court takes.
There are some grey areas which the court would have to deal with. The foremost is whether the recommendations of the Lodha panel are sacrosanct. Can the BCCI differ with and defy some of the recommendations or is it bound by the panel’s recommendations. The principal rejected ones relate to one-state one-vote, age limit of 70 years and cooling-off period of three years, and the BCCI selection committee having three members on it instead of the current five. Having already expressed a favourable view on the Lodha committee’s recommendations, would the Supreme Court be in a position now to reject some of Justice Lodha’s recommendations which the BCCI has opposed? There is also heightened speculation on what the apex court can do to ensure that all Lodha recommendations are implemented. In view of BCCI’s open defiance, can the BCCI office-bearers be sacked? Can the BCCI then go in final appeal to a full bench of the Supreme Court or is there any other remedy available to it?
It is clear from the BCCI stand so far that it is imbued with a degree of arrogance and is, in many matters, guided ostensibly by entrenched interests. What else can one make of the rejection of the recommendation for an age limit of 70 years for the cricket administrators on which the BCCI bosses are so adamant? Why is there such resistance on a three-man selection panel and on the fact that the selectors must have Test experience? It is heartening, however, that the BCCI has accepted the recommendation to induct a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General in the Apex Council as well as the IPL Governing Council and the formation of the Apex Council with certain modifications. The special general meeting of the BCCI also accepted a code of conduct for players and team officials, an anti-doping code, an anti-racism code, an anti-corruption code and operational rules of the first timeline report of the Justice Lodha Committee for implementation for the next IPL season.
In the final analysis, the initiative of the Supreme Court in setting up the Lodha panel was in retrospect a welcome move. It was public knowledge that corruption was rampant in the cricketing establishment in India and bossism ruled the roost. With cricket being such a popular sport in the country, the cash cow was being milked by vested interests. State satraps also extracted their pound of flesh from the BCCI. Now that there is a serious and concerted attempt to check corruption, some overt and covert challenge to the Lodha panel was inevitable. If at the end of the whole exercise cricket is largely cleaned up, the faith of the people in the game which was shaken would be restored. All eyes are now on the Supreme Court until it unravels its mind on October 6.