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BCCI, the saviour

Decades of concern about the needs of millions not in any way associated with cricket made the BCCI come up with a grand strategy of Gandhian proportions, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2010 23:15 IST
Indrajit Hazra

By the volcanic ash spewed from below Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier, all of India’s problems will be solved by an unlikely hero: the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)!

While the sideshow of a spat between a minister and a BCCI vice-president continues to hog the limelight, the real story of how the world’s richest cricketing body will plough its hard-earned money into social development programmes for the uplift of millions of Indians is not only moving but inspirational.

The BCCI’s selflessness, like all grand gestures, doesn’t immediately become apparent to people because of its radical nature. But sitting with a friend at a Chinese restaurant, vaguely following the IPL game of the evening from across the room and discussing how two contrasting private enterprises — the BCCI and the CPI(Maoist) — have taken on a responsibility that the Government of India has failed, it became so obvious.

Till the amendment of the Finance Act 2008-09, the BCCI did not have to pay any taxes. Registered as a charitable trust under Section 12(a) of the Income Tax Act, the BCCI’s job was to “promote cricket for general public good”. So, quite understandably, it was exempt from paying taxes.

Now, when the Finance Act 2008-09 announced that “charitable purpose” will include only “relief for poor, education, medical relief, and the advancement of any other object of general public utility... [that] cannot be treated as a charitable purpose if it involved carrying on of any activity in the nature of trade, commerce or business”, many of the BCCI’s detractors rubbed their hands with glee. At last, they said, the money-machine was going to be tapped.

But it becomes obvious, if you were in a Chinese restaurant with my friend and lurching towards your fifth drink in the middle of an IPL game, that this has always been in the BCCI’s gameplan: to share its fortunes with the people of India — Rs 1,000.41 crore on last count (2007-08). Earlier, the deal was that the BCCI would spread its munificence to upgrade cricket stadiums, cricketing facilities, training and salaries for players and administrators across India.

But this was only the tip of the non-Icelandic iceberg. Decades of concern about the needs of millions of Indians not in any way associated with cricket (yes, odd as this may sound, there are plenty such folks) made the BCCI come up with a grand strategy of Gandhian proportions. The IPL itself is really a massive National Employment Guarantee Scheme.

The BCCI, to show that it’s not a self-righteous body that operates only on the rhetorical-political level, has even pretended to resist being taxed. As for transparency, who are you going to believe: Anil Chintaman Khare from Nagpur who (unsuccessfully) filed an RTI application demanding that the BCCI, a non-profit body that does not receive any funds from the Government of India, is made accountable under the transparency law? Or the BCCI, who in its December 2005 ‘The Cricket Board in the 21st Century: A Vision Paper’, declared: “Frankly, the question being asked is, as the richest body in world cricket, has it fulfilled its obligations towards the players and paying public? For that we all need to introspect and touch our hearts before saying ‘Yes, we have.’...The buzzword should be transparency”?

The income-tax officials are hoping to complete the ‘assessment of the BCCI’s returns’ by December 2010 on a fast track basis. Once that is done and the BCCI becomes the largest tax payer in the country, be sure that no Indian will be poor, never mind poverty-stricken. I can’t wait.