BCCI to contest the decision to bring it under RTI

Vinod Rai, the chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators AFP

The BCCI will legally contest the decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC), an appellate regulatory body of the Indian government, to bring it under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The BCCI, which had already filed a plea in the Madras High Court in 2013 to contest against being brought under the RTI, will now seek a stay on the CIC order announced earlier this week.

The RTI is a path-breaking federal law established in 2005, which makes the working of high-profile organisations open to public scrutiny. The BCCI has strongly resisted the demands to be brought under the ambit of the RTI on two grounds. Firstly, it has stressed that it is a society registered in Tamil Nadu and does not receive any government funds. And that leads to its second point, which is that the BCCI should be treated as a private entity and not as a public authority.

Vinod Rai, the chairman of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) that has been asked to oversee the BCCI till fresh elections are conducted, said that the board had informed the CIC that matter was sub-judice. The board had sought some time before the decision was enforced but M Sridhar Acharyulu, the CIC commissioner, declined that request and imposed the order. It asked the BCCI to put in place the infrastructure and start receiving RTI pleas from the public within 15 days from its order.

But the BCCI has indicated that it will contest the order. "The BCCI will seek a stay on the order of the CIC," Rai told ESPNcricinfo.

According to Rai, everything except details pertaining to a few key issues would be put on the BCCI website. "We have been practising transparency and we have been totally transparent in absolutely everything we are doing," Rai said. "Except details of team meetings, minutes of team selections, information regarding injury to players, anti-doping process and details concerning anti-corruption investigations, we are trying to put all other details on the BCCI website."

The CIC pointed out the BCCI should be "listed" as a National Sports Federation (NSF) despite being a non-government organisation. To support its case, the CIC spelt out sections of the Law Commission of India, that recently had concluded that the BCCI was "virtually" an NSF and the Indian government should recognise the same. The Law Commission had pointed out that despite it playing a "monopolistic" in the regulation of cricket, the BCCI had been "flying under the radar" of public scrutiny.

The CIC echoed the same sentiment. "In the absence of effective self-regulation and non-applicability of public law to scrutinise and review the functioning of the sports body, the necessity of public scrutiny arose and the only way for that is through the RTI Act."

The CIC locked horns with the BCCI for the first time in 2013 when Madhu Agarwal, an RTI activist, sought from the Indian board information on some of its policies. The BCCI declined to entertain Agarwal's request, so she approached the CIC. The BCCI then approached the Madras High Court, after the CIC asked it to attend a hearing. On July 24, 2013, the court issued a stay order and since then the case has not been heard.

However, last December another RTI activist Geeta Rani wanted the BCCI to answer specific questions related to how it was given the powers of a public body. Rani approached the CIC this April and on July 10, the appellate body ruled: "The commission thinks in public interest, in the interest of fair cricket and for fair process of selection of Indian cricket team members, the BCCI should be made transparent, accountable and answerable under the Right to Information Act, 2005."

The CIC sought an explanation from the BCCI as to why it should not be called a public authority despite the recommendation of the Law Commission as well as various pronouncements by the Supreme Court and various High Courts as well as the Lodha Committee.

Acharyulu claims the BCCI did not respond to the CIC till October 1, the day the commission issued its latest order. In its defence, the BCCI presented a copy of the stay order given by the Madras High Court in 2013.

However this March, concerned by the cases remaining pending for "unduly" period, the Supreme Court passed a judgement stating that any stay would lapse after a period of six months from that day - March 28, 2018 - unless a "speaking order" extending a stay was granted in the intervening period. Also, the extension should only be granted under "exceptional circumstances wherein the continuation of the stay order is warranted more than expeditious final disposal of the trial".

Rai said his role is for a limited period, but he does not want to "saddle" the BCCI with a decision he did not contest. He himself believed that the BCCI could not come under the RTI purview. "In principle, I want the BCCI to be a totally transparent body, but I do not want to be under the guillotine of having to reply [to RTI requests] in a set amount of time. Because then all kinds of requests will start coming. I am sure there is nothing that you would want to know [that is] not there on the BCCI website. And we are engaging in making it more vibrant."