There is disquiet in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. The emerging destination for international cricket with its state team also finding its feet, the game has shuddered to a halt in the last one week.
The game’s administration is in disarray, after the Congress government ordered a midnight swoop to take over the picturesque international stadium in Dharamsala, evicting its owners, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA). The drastic action woke up bewildered players and brought them to the road and delayed the Ranji tie against Goa until 3 pm on Sunday.
The government also seized other HPCA properties in Bilaspur, Una and Shimla besides its luxury hotel, “The Pavilion”, built off Dharamsala.
The action comes after allegations against HPCA over converting from a society to a company, but the manner in which the authorities have acted smacks of political vindictiveness. Its president Anurag Thakur, a BJP Lok Sabha MP from the state whose father was the previous chief minister, has no doubt about that.
“What else does it mean, taking over a stadium at 2 am? This is nothing but dictatorship,” Thakur told HT on Friday. “We have done nothing illegal in registering the association under section 25 of the companies act. Many other state units have also done that. It also encourages transparency.”
Thakur said the government action was a desperate move, pointing out that the take over of the Dharamsala stadium was done two days before the registrar of societies conceded that it had no jurisdiction over HPCA as it was a company. “But the government didn’t wait to receive its own vigilance investigation report either,” Thakur pointed out. “If governments start acting against autonomous bodies like this, there will be a new trend to kill sports bodies.”
He is confident the government’s attempt to set up a parallel body will not be accepted by the BCCI, but the current mess will ring the death knell on cricket development in the state. The HPCA has pinned its hopes on its petition before the Himachal High Court, which will be heard next on Nov 5.
He denied allegations that rules were flouted to build the luxury hotel. “We took all necessary permissions. In fact, we contribute R27.5 lakh as annual lease amount while most of the tourism properties don’t even make profit.”
“When I took over Himachal cricket in 2000, the budget was barely R20 lakh with no infrastructure. We have created six stadiums and our work has brought in so much sports tourism,” the BCCI joint secretary pointed out to the IPL and international matches coming to Dharamsala.
With its staff shut out of the grounds, home Ranji games will have to be shifted out of the state. “And if that happens, where will the players train?”
“For the government, cricket is nothing. It has 100 other priorities. But we can’t let that happen.”