Any penalty 'disenfranchising' teams from the IPL should be carried out by the BCCI, the Supreme Court observed today, while at the same time raising questions about the composition of the board that should be empowered to take such a decision. The observations, made by the two-man bench of Justice TS Thakur and FM Khalifullah, also put a doubt over the BCCI elections, scheduled for December 17.
In hearing arguments by Kapil Sibal, counsel for sidelined BCCI president N Srinivasan, in the 2013 IPL corruption case, the bench said that should the court disqualify a team, it would appear to be interfering in BCCI duties. Justice Thakur then asked, "But which BCCI should do it? The BCCI whose term is over?" The BCCI's term ended in September but it postponed its elections twice in the expectation the Supreme Court case would come to a conclusion. The judge then raised a question about the election. "Who should be allowed to fight? People who are subject to a matter of inquiry, people who are indicted by the commission? Should they proceed to capture the BCCI once again?"
The three issues highlighted during the hearings today were around N Srinivasan's alleged conflict of interest, which has been brought into focus by the two-man bench, the BCCI's own official position on the issue, and the action to be taken in the IPL case.
Sibal argued that, "the right to participate in the electoral process has nothing to do with conflict of interest," at which point he was asked by the judge whether CSK should be disenfranchised, when Gurunath Meiyappan was found "indulging in betting activity." Sibal said that should happen only if Gurunath was found to be a team owner. Srinivasan, he said, should be allowed to contest elections in keeping with the statutes of societies. He cited the example of the FIH (International Hockey Federation), which permitted officials to have commercial stakes in aspects of the sport as long as they made their interests formally known to the organisation. He did, however, let the court know that no such specific rule was present in the BCCI constitution.
Justice Kalifullah said the BCCI president needed to be above board, and also above "any kind of allegation." In Srinivasan's case, the bench said, "Taking all circumstances in account, it is very difficult to accept your contention that there is no conflict of interest. You being MD of India Cements, India Cements owning CSK, an official of CSK involved in betting and you heading the BCCI." Justice Thakur said Srinivasan was "dealing with dual capacities. You are a contractor and you're heading a contracting party." Sibal then argued that a bidding process had been involved in the purchase of the franchise and that the bench was making "speculations." Khalifullah said to him, "We are not speculating. There is already a finding. There is a director who is involved in betting."
Srinivasan, Sibal said, should not "be foisted with vicarious liability, vicarious criminal liability. Why should I be saddled with the consequences due to the statements attributed to someone else?" He said that the litigants' case was a "conceptual" argument over conflict of interest, as there was "not a single allegation against me." His argument that Srinivasan would distance himself from the penalty given out to CSK and Gurunath was countered by Justice Thakur who said, "Bias acts in a subtle way. Even as a president if you go away, the bias will continue to influence the judgement of other people. Will it make a difference? [If Srinivasan is are distanced from the CSK case] It won't."
The court said, the "purity" of cricket had to be maintained, "all persons at the helm of its affairs should be above suspicion."
The hearing resumes on Tuesday.