The world's richest cricket body Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will now come under greater scrutiny after the Supreme Court on Thursday declared it a public body which discharges public functions.
"Any organisation or entity that has such pervasive control over the game (of cricket) and its affairs and such powers as can make dreams end up in smoke or come true cannot be said to be undertaking any private activity," a bench headed by justice TS Thakur said rejecting BCCI's claim of being a private body.
"The functions of the Board are clearly public functions, which, till such time the state intervenes to take over the same, remain in the nature of public functions, no matter discharged by a society registered under the Registration of Societies Act."
The bench said the BCCI would be amenable to the writ jurisdiction of high courts under Article 226 even when it was not ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution.
"This would imply that all those principles of law that ensure justice, fair play and bring transparency and objectivity and promote probity in the discharge of public functions would also constitute public policy," the bench said, adding any deviation from "salutary principles of justice, fairness, good conscience, equity and objectivity will be opposed to public policy."
It means any member of the public can challenge the BCCI's decisions in a high court and possibly it would also come under the purview of the right to information act.
The court took note of the fact that BCCI had a complete sway over the game of cricket in India and it regulated and controlled the game to the exclusion of all others.
"It formulates rules, regulations norms and standards covering all aspect of the game. It enjoys the power of choosing the members of the national team and the umpires. It exercises the power of disqualifying players which may at times put an end to the sporting career of a person," the SC observed.
"It spends crores of rupees on building and maintaining infrastructure like stadia, running of cricket academies and supporting state associations. It frames pension schemes and incurs expenditure on coaches, trainers, etc. It sells broadcast and telecast rights and collects admission fee to venues where the matches are played," the bench emphasised.
"All these activities are undertaken with the tacit concurrence of the state government and the Government of India who are not only fully aware but supportive of the activities of the Board. The state has not chosen to bring any law or taken any other step that would either deprive or dilute the Board’s monopoly in the field of cricket," the top court said.
"On the contrary, the government of India has allowed the Board to select the national team which is then recognised by all concerned and applauded by the entire nation including at times by the highest of the dignitaries when they win tournaments and bring laurels home," the bench said.
It also noted that cricketers have got civilian awards such as the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri apart from sporting awards instituted by the government.
"Such is the passion for this game in this country that cricketers are seen as icons by youngsters, middle aged and the old alike."
"Suffice it to say that if the government not only allows an autonomous/private body to discharge functions which it could in law takeover or regulate but even lends its assistance to such a non-government body to undertake such functions which by their very nature are public functions, it cannot be said that the functions are not public functions or that the entity discharging the same is not answerable on the standards generally applicable to judicial review of state action," it said.