India news October 26, 2010

Cricket officials public servants: Kerala HC

In a ruling that could have widespread repercussions for cricket administration in India, the Kerala High Court has said the officials of the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) can be considered public servants, and directed a lower court to continue hearing a complaint alleging misappropriation of funds by the association. The complaint was filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which applies only to public servants.

The KCA had argued that it was a private body similar to a club, and therefore did not come under the purview of the act. In its order, the High Court observed that the KCA had a monopoly on cricket in the state and performed a public duty and a public service, and so was liable to be investigated by the vigilance department.

The complainant, Balaji Iyengar, a chartered accountant and former Kerala junior cricketer, had filed the original complaint against the KCA in the Vigilance Court two years ago. The court ruled in favour of the KCA, saying its officials were not public servants, but Iyengar challenged the ruling in the High Court. In quashing the lower court's order, Justice M Shashidharan Nambiar held that the officials do fall under the definition of public servant as laid out in the act.

TC Matthew, the KCA secretary, told ESPNcricinfo it would challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court, adding that the decision, if allowed to stand, could result in a number of cases being filed against the BCCI and other sports associations.

Indian cricket's governing body has consistently held it is a private organisation and not accountable to the public but the Kerala ruling could open the door for anyone to challenge the functioning of the BCCI and cricket associations around the country.

"It will be a landmark judgement of sorts if upheld by the Supreme Court," the activist lawyer Rahul Mehra said. "In effect, what you are saying is that these officials are akin to government officials." Mehra famously pursued public interest litigation against the BCCI in 2000 in an attempt to extract more accountability from the board.

The Delhi High Court ruled in Mehra's favour in 2004, saying that the BCCI was accountable to the public as it performs important public functions. That ruling was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in a case involving television rights between Zee Telefilms, an Indian television company, and the BCCI. This decision takes things another step further, Mehra said. "It has opened a door which I have been trying to open for about five years."

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo