Open BCCI to public scrutiny: Law panel tells Indian govt

The BCCI officials at the IPL opening ceremony BCCI

The Law Commission of India has recommended bringing the BCCI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act since it performs the functions of a public body. And should the government approve and follow through on this view, the board could be grappling with far-reaching consequences. Several members of the ruling dispensation in Delhi currently hold offices in BCCI and its state associations.

The 124-page report prepared by a panel of lawmakers led by Justice BS Chauhan concluded that the BCCI is "virtually" a national sports federation (NSF), and that the Indian government should formally recognise it as such. NSFs automatically come under the purview of RTI, a path-breaking federal law established in 2005, which makes the working of high-profile organisations open to public scrutiny.

The Law commission, which has submitted its recommendations for the approval to the Indian Law Ministry, also said that the BCCI should be classified as a "State" and fall under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution.

The Law Commission found that the "magnanimity and enormity of the functions" helped the BCCI enjoy a "monopolistic status" as it was allowed by the State to be the final authority on all cricket matters including picking national teams, organising and regulating the sport in the country, and representing India at international platforms - all actions carried out by NSFs.

According to the Commission such freedom has only made the BCCI immune to accountability and transparency. "Non-consideration of the role played by BCCI as monopolistic in regulation of the game of cricket has resulted in the Board flying under the radar of public scrutiny, encouraged an environment of opacity and non-accountability," the report said. "In the past, this has probably given an impression in the minds of the general public that corruption and other forms of malpractices are adversely affecting one of the most popular sports played in India.

"BCCI exercises 'State-like' powers affecting the fundamental rights of the stakeholders, guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. It is hereby recommended that BCCI be viewed as an agency or instrumentality of State, under Article 12 of the Constitution, thereby making it amenable to the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32."

These findings only reinforced the order of the Supreme Court in 2016 when it approved the Lodha Committee recommendations for radical reforms in the way the BCCI does business. Simultaneously, it had asked the Law Commission to see if the board could fall under the RTI act, as suggested by the Lodha committee. The Court had said if the answer was "affirmative" then the Law Commission should send its recommendations to the Indian Government to help bring in a new legislation that will make the BCCI open to public scrutiny.

So far the BCCI has argued that it is merely a private body, formed as society under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, 1975. It argued that it does not get and depend on any funding or financial assistance of any type from the government and hence cannot be classified as an NSF. However, the Law Commission's counter was the BCCI was being given "substantial" financial assistance in "other forms" like getting massive tax exemptions, customs duty waivers, and land and infrastructure across the country at "excessively subsidised" rates form the central and state governments.

"Even if BCCI is continued to be regarded as a private body, but owing to its monopolistic character coupled with the public nature of its functions and the 'substantial financing' it has received from appropriate Governments over the years (in the form of tax exemptions, land grants et al) it can, within the existing legal framework, still be termed as a 'public authority' and be brought within the purview of the RTI Act."

The Law Commission also noted that the BCCI was already being treated as a NSF by various Indian governments for several years. "As per the statement made in the Lok Sabha, the Central Government has already been regarding BCCI as a National Sports Federation and hence, it is recommended that, for the removal of any doubt, the same be explicitly mentioned in the list of NSFs available on the ministry's website. This express mention would automatically bring BCCI within the purview of RTI Act."