India news April 8, 2016

Supreme Court asks BCCI: Are you refusing to be reformed?

The BCCI was questioned over its accountability to cricket fans by the Supreme Court on Friday © Cricket Australia

Continuing arguments over the Lodha Committee report on Friday, the BCCI said that because of its status as a trust it was beyond the purview of the Supreme Court. The court responded by asking the BCCI whether it was "refusing to be reformed" and adjourned the matter to Monday

A three-man panel led by Justice RM Lodha had recommended several changes to the BCCI's functioning, but the board has been reluctant to implement some of them. The BCCI's senior counsel, KK Venugopal, told the bench, comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla, that the board was registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act and also reportedly cited Article 19 (C) of the Constitution of India, which allows for the formation of associations or unions, as one of the reasons the court could not interfere in the BCCI's functioning.

"This is a private body and can arrange its matters in whatever way it wants," Venugopal told the court, according to the Hindu.

Regarding the suggestion of "one state, one vote" and the recent critique against how the BCCI disbursed its funds to the state associations, Venugopal said, "Memberships are part of internal management. In case of complaints, approach the Registrar, Co-operative Societies or the police station or the court. There has been no instance of malfeasance to trigger interference which will change the very character and functioning of the Board."

During his submission, Venugopal also cited the Zee Telefilms judgement of 2005. In response to a writ petition by Zee Telefilms against the BCCI over the cancellation of telecast rights, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had ruled that the Indian cricket board was not a "state" as defined by Article 12 of the Constitution, and no fundamental rights can be invoked against it. At the time, however, the court had also ruled that the BCCI was a private body carrying out a public function and, therefore, could be taken to court for violation of a statutory court. According to this judgement, Venugopal said on Friday, the Supreme court could only examine the BCCI's public function, which does not include its character or composition.

Chief Justice Thakur had a pointed question for Venugopal: "Every single penny you hold in trust is for the benefit of the game and for those who play and for the millions of cricket lovers who pay you to watch the game... Are you not accountable to them? Are you refusing to be reformed?"

Chief Justice Thakur had more rhetorical questions for the BCCI counsel. "[From] what we understand is that you are suggesting that I am answerable to Registrar of Societies. I will be accountable only to Registrar of the Society. I will be amenable to criminal law but I will not reform. Don't ask me to reform. Is it possible? What have you done? We have seen the allegations of match-fixing and betting. You have no control over these. But you give money in crores. The Lodha committee has said something. It has been said to make the functioning more transparent and visible and the effort is to reform the BCCI."

The bench asked Venugopal, "When you collect thousands of crores of rupees, are you saying that we cannot question you as to how you spend the same?" The BCCI counsel nodded. "With respect, yes."

Venugopal said that broadcasting revenue accrued from selling media rights was the main source of income for the BCCI. He then argued that the court cannot say how the BCCI must run its business, but it can definitely look into allegations of malfeasance and misconduct. The court asked the BCCI: "The money that you have is in your trust. Are you not accountable to the beneficiaries? It is for the benefit of the people who watch matches. Are you not accountable to them?"

"We are accountable to the statutory bodies, the regulatory bodies like the Registrar of Societies or the Criminal Law," Venugopal said. He told the bench that the BCCI was carrying out reform in a stage-by-stage basis.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo