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CoA head denies taking unilateral stand in Johri controversy

BCCI CEO Rahul Johri at a press conference Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Vinod Rai, the chairman of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) that is overseeing the BCCI, has categorically denied that he acted unilaterally in dealing with the controversy surrounding the sexual-harassment allegations raised by an anonymous person against BCCI chief executive officer Rahul Johri.

Rai's role came into focus after it emerged that Diana Edulji, the other half of the Supreme Court appointed CoA, had differed sharply on the issue and had wanted Johri's contract to be terminated without an inquiry, which was eventually instituted on Rai's insistence.

However, the three-member independent inquiry committee itself was required to be reconstituted even before it had begun its work, after it emerged that one of the original panelists, former CBI director PC Sharma, whose son is on a retainer with the BCCI, had a conflict of interest. Human rights activist Veena Gowda, who is also a member of BCCI's Internal Complaints Committee, eventually replaced Sharma. The panel, which now comprises two women, has been given a fortnight to draw a conclusion during which Johri will remain on leave.

Curiously, it has now emerged that Johri, even though he has not reported to work since the allegation surfaced on Twitter as part of the #MeToo movement, continues to be part of official email communications. He wrote an email to CoA among others on Wednesday, and has been marked on several other official mails. It was explained to ESPNcricnfo that while Johri had been asked to go on leave, he has not been suspended, and, since has been signatory to various decisions taken on behalf of the BCCI so he has been copied on official emails.

*Before the independent inquiry committee was set up, Rai had consulted two legal luminaries associated with the BCCI's structural reforms and sought suggestions on the likely panelists. It is understood that Rai wanted a female judge to head the independent committee and had reached out to three former female judges, who were busy and hence declined.

Rai reiterated that his insistence on having an independent panel was only because terminating Johri's contract and sacking him would have lead to the BCCI getting entangled in further legal controversy. "Even if there was an overwhelming majority, based on an anonymous tweet there is no way in which an employee can be dismissed. The next day that employee will get a stay from the court. Even if it was 3 against 1 (on the CoA), I would have prevailed. There is just no way that I would have accepted. And even if it was anybody else including office bearers, I would have carried out the due process of law and try to ensure that the person is either cleared or thrown out."

Although Rai "prevailed" and Edulji approved the appointment of the independent committee, the difference of opinion between the two prompted criticism that the CoA was a "divided" house.

Among those who came out strongly against Rai's decision-making were Amitabh Choudury (BCCI acting secretary) and former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, who is also the president of Cricket Association of Bengal, one of the long-term and prominent board members. Choudhury said Rai "has no power or authority to prevail over the views" of Edulji "and take decisions unilaterally on behalf of the CoA or on behalf of the BCCI". Ganguly was equally blunt at the manner in which the CoA, which he termed as "divided", had handled the Johri issue, which he said reflected "poorly" on the BCCI.

Rai pointed out that he never took any decision on the Johri issue or in the past unilaterally. He said both he and Edulji might have had differences on various other issues but agreed eventually to be on the same page.

"This (Johri) is the only issue on which we had an ongoing disagreement," Rai said. "We have always discussed and settled the issues, but this is the only issue which we had disagreement. And Diana is on record to say that this is my viewpoint however chairman (Rai) may decide."

Asked if Edulji's consent on forming the independent committee was in writing, Rai said it was. Rai said that only after Edulji had given her consent to the content of the press release, he decided to make it public through a BCCI media release. "I was conscious about what I was writing. I wrote it out, I showed it her, she changed (bits) of it and only then it was sent out. This press release had been approved by her. The terms of reference has been approved by her."

Rai also wondered why several people faulted him on his approach to the Johri controversy but no one has "ever suggested" a better way forward.

Meanwhile, the independent committee comprising Rakesh Sharma (former judge of Allhabad High Court), Barkha Singh (former chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women) and Gowda met for the first time at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. The committee heard both Rai and Edulji, and will study the material made available by the BCCI for the next two days.

An email address - bcciinquirycommittee@gmail.com - has been set up by the committee, for "any person, whether from BCCI or otherwise, who may have any complaint/information/evidence to address the Committee concerning allegations of sexual harassment" to write to. The email address will be active till November 9. The committee will then convene on November 10-11 to study any information received on the email address, as well "hear any person willing to depose" before the panel.

Additional reporting by Sidharth Monga

*0800GMT The additional information was added on Friday morning