Cricket officials are public servants, rules India's Supreme Court
In a ruling that is likely to have widespread repercussions for cricket administration in India, the Supreme Court has upheld a Kerala High Court decision that the officials of the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) are public servants. The court's decision means that officials who are part of a private body, but perform what can be considered a public function, can now be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which applies only to public servants. It is the first time the courts have taken such a view of sports administrators in India.
A two-justice bench comprising Justice VS Sirpurkar and TS Thakur dismissed an appeal filed by the KCA president, TR Balakrishanan, and secretary, TC Matthew, who had challenged the High Court's decision allowing them to be prosecuted under the act. The judges first heard the case on January 3, before adjourning it for three weeks as the association wanted more time to file additional documents. The case was finally dismissed yesterday, with the judges calling the High Court's decision a 'beautifully crafted judgement'.
Justice M Shashidharan Nambiar, who passed the High Court order, sought to establish whether the officials fall under the definition of public servant as laid out in the act. 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 prosecuted under the act.
"It [the decision] has far reaching consequences," Matthew told ESPNcricinfo. "In sports associations, people may fight, and those who are defeated may go to court. It opens a Pandora's Box. People can take vengeance in vigilance courts. Nothing will progress. Honest people will not come to work for associations like this."
One such association is the BCCI, of which the KCA is a member. The Indian board has consistently held it is a private organisation and not accountable to the public, but the ruling opens the door for anyone to challenge its officials and those of other cricket associations around the country.
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.
"So far sports associations in India have had responsibility without accountability," Iyengar said. "Hopefully this will usher in an era of responsibility with accountability."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo