Few checks and balances, BCCI pushed for transparency
After years of dodging attempts to bring it under the ambit of the Right To Information Act (RTI Act), the Indian cricket board appears close to being opened up to public scrutiny.
The Law Commission of India has recommended that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) be treated as a public body and brought under the Act because it performs “state-like” functions and receives public funding.
The Commission studied the issue after the Supreme Court in 2016 sought its advice on an issue that is seen as critical to reform of India’s richest sporting body.
The issue isn’t new. Whether the BCCI can be considered a public body was the crux of the arguments a five-judge bench headed by justice Santosh Hegde heard when Zee Telefilms Ltd took the board to court in 2005 for cancelling media rights it had won for telecasting cricket matches played in India.
Zee contended that BCCI should be considered a public body or ‘state’. And if the court found in the broadcaster’s favour, a writ petition could be filed to contest the board’s decision.
As senior advocate Harish Salve put forth his arguments, justice Hegde at one point inquired whether, if the court upheld Zee’s argument, a player can approach the court even against an umpire’s decision.
Without batting an eyelid, Salve narrated a joke. A batsman, given out on a Friday afternoon, gets a stay and goes on to amass runs at the weekend until the fielding side petitions the court on Monday and gets the stay vacated for status quo to be restored!
The Supreme Court’s final ruling said BCCI was not a public body or ‘state’ under Article 12. This barred Zee from filing a writ petition against the board.
Cricket board officials have for years opposed bringing BCCI under the RTI Act, arguing it was a private body. This argument was accepted until the Supreme Court heard a conflict of interest petition against then BCCI president N Srinivasan and the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal rocked the image of one of the world’s wealthiest sports federations.
In 2015, the court said that although the Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling was in place, it could be subject to judicial review under Art 226.
The argument that BCCI will end up facing frivolous RTI pleas has some merit, especially with the cricket board having commercial interests running into millions of dollars. A surge in the price of media broadcasting rights and the rise of new aspirants, especially after the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008, has left interested parties looking to find out at least on what grounds various decisions are arrived at in BCCI.
One will have to wait for the final word to be said on BCCI coming under the RTI Act. If it does come under the purview of the Act, cricket officials must bear most of the blame for not setting up checks and balances in its functioning and forcing the courts to step in.