Suhrith Parthasarathy is a lawyer and writer from Chennai, India
The Supreme Court's judgment, delivered on January 22 this year, in cases emanating out of the insidious dealings of the Indian Premier League, was rightly lauded at the time. The court had rendered a momentous verdict, with far-reaching implications, in finding that the activities of the BCCI were amenable to the rigours of judicial review.
What's more, the court had also confirmed the findings of a panel headed by Mukul Mudgal, a former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, of wrongdoing by Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra, individuals inextricably linked with the IPL. But there remained a feeling that complete justice had yet to be achieved.
This was so because the court had deferred to an independent committee the job of determining punishments to not only Meiyappan and Kundra, but also to India Cements Ltd (ICL) and Jaipur IPL Cricket Limited (JICL), the respective owners of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals.
On Tuesday, this court-appointed committee, headed by RM Lodha, a former chief justice of India, rendered its verdict. Its findings have joyously squashed any remaining feeling of apprehension that the BCCI's unaccountability would continue to go unpunished. The committee not only awarded lifetime bans to Meiyappan and Kundra from all involvement with IPL cricket, but it also suspended ICL and JICL from participation in the IPL for a period of two years.
At the outset, the Committee clarified its specific mandate, ousting any hope that the transgressors might have had in re-arguing the question of their guilt. In its order, the committee made repeated references to a number of paragraphs from the Supreme Court's judgment, most notably paragraph 110. Here, the court had observed that it was only the quantum of punishment to be imposed on Meiyappan and Kundra, and their "respective franchisees/teams/owners of the teams," which alone required determination by the committee.
This finding by the court, in the committee's opinion, altogether barred Meiyappan and Kundra from raising any fresh doubts with respect to their involvement in activities of betting. Equally, it also forbade ICL and JICL from questioning the establishment of their own respective contraventions.
"If the culpability of the two Franchisees," wrote the committee, "were not found established by the Hon'ble Supreme Court, it would not have mandated the Committee to determine the quantum of punishment to be imposed on them." Therefore, its job, the committee held, was restricted to awarding punishments to Meiyappan, Kundra, ICL and JICL for their individual and separate acts of wrongdoing.
Previously, the Mudgal panel had found - as was also later affirmed by the Supreme Court - that Meiyappan and Kundra, through their acts of betting, had violated the IPL's Operational Rules, the IPL's Anti-Corruption Code for Participants and the IPL's Code of Conduct for Players and Team Officials.
At the time of arguing the quantum of punishment to be awarded, Meiyappan's counsel, in seeking leniency from the Lodha Committee for his client, contended that action could now be taken only under the Anti-Corruption Code. As it happened, under this code, a person could be banned from involvement in the game, at most, for a period of five years. These arguments were, however, dismissed by the Committee.
"The Supreme Court's analysis of the Operational Rules, Code of Conduct and Anti Corruption Code and the remarks while analyzing these Rules and Codes," wrote the Committee, "leave no manner of doubt that disciplinary action against Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan is not confined to the Anti Corruption Code alone." What's more, the three documents, the committee found, were not mutually exclusive. While the act of betting is a specific offence under the Anti Corruption Code, when, through such act, a player or official brings the game into disrepute, he equally violates the terms of the Operational Rules as well as the Code of Conduct.
In Meiyappan's case, the committee found, there were a number of factors that aggravated the nature of his offences. These included the fact that he was an integral part of CSK; that he was in regular touch with bookies and punters; that he frequently placed bets in IPL matches, sometimes even while these matches were in progress; that he had been found to be a "team official," within the meaning given to the term under the Operational Rules; and that he showed no remorse for his actions. These circumstances, in the committee's belief, necessitated a life-ban, as permitted under both the Code of Conduct and the Operational Rules.
Kundra's counsel also sought to make arguments seeking to restrict any punishment to his client to that mandated under the Anti-Corruption Code alone. But the committee found that the misconduct established against Kundra had been three-fold: of betting, of adversely affecting the image of the BCCI, the IPL and the game of cricket, and of acting against the spirit of the game, by bringing disrepute to it. Each of these offences, the Committee ruled, were distinct, and mandated imposition of separate sanctions. As a result, Kundra too was accorded an effective life-ban.
The counsel for ICL and JICL, for their parts, made arguments seeking to distance their clients from the transgressions committed by Meiyappan and Kundra. The Committee, however, held, much like it had in the individuals' cases, that the Supreme Court had already confirmed the respective guilt of ICL and JICL. "The fact that the Committee has been given authority by the Hon'ble Supreme Court to determine the quantum of punishment against the franchisee/teams/owners as well," wrote the Committee, "is indicative of the position that there is a finding of wrongdoing recorded against the franchisees."
In the case of ICL, the Committee ruled that the company was vicariously responsible for Meiyappan's actions. "Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan was in the position of owner," the Committee wrote. "He is the son-in-law of Mr. N Srinivasan, Managing Director of ICL, which is the Franchisee of the team CSK."
As far as JICL was concerned, its omission in checking Kundra's wrongdoings, in the Committee's words, "are grave in as much as its part owner and Team Official has been found to have indulged in betting and that has affected the image of the game (and the BCCI and the League) and brought each one of them to disrepute." Accordingly, under the terms of the IPL's Operational Rules, both ICL and JICL, as franchisees, have been suspended from the IPL for a period of two years.
It's worthwhile to note that ICL had, in fact, already transferred its rights over the CSK franchise to a subsidiary, Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd, in February this year. Although there is no specific clarification on the validity of this transfer in the Committee's order, presumably the order of suspension would also apply to the new subsidiary.
It is plausible to argue that these orders of suspension would nonetheless permit CSK and RR to continue to participate in the IPL, if ICL and JICL divest their ownership in their respective franchises. But, the committee also appears to suggest that the orders of suspension imposed on ICL and JICL are in their capacity as franchisees and not owners. This would mean that even a transfer of ownership in the franchises might be insufficient to pave the way for CSK and RR to participate in the IPL over the next two years. To sum up, the order doesn't say anything explicit on this issue. It leaves us to interpret what would happen in the event of a transfer of ownership, and an argument can be made that even a transfer of ownership would not allow CSK and RR to participate for the next two years.
ICL has already expressed its intentions to appeal the Committee's verdict to the Supreme Court. The grounds available to it, though, appear to be rather scarce. The Supreme Court's judgment, no doubt, permits parties aggrieved by the findings of the Committee to seek recourse to "appropriate judicial proceedings in accordance with law." But, equally, the judgment also makes it clear that the Committee's order would be final and binding.
This observation greatly reduces the options available to the prospective appellants - given that they were ostensibly accorded a fair hearing, and given that there appears to be no obvious error in the committee's findings, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will now modify the sanctions awarded.
The Supreme Court's original intervention in these matters was no doubt meant as a special measure prompted by what the court viewed as extraordinary circumstances. In the absence of the court's involvement, it's difficult to imagine the transgressors facing any real punishment, given the nature of their relationship with the BCCI and the positions of power that they enjoy. This verdict rendered by Justice Lodha's committee ought not to take attention away from the real issue: the BCCI remains a private body, generally unaccountable to the public.
It is possible that the Supreme Court's judgment, read together with the committee's verdict, might usher an era of better governance within the BCCI. But to bring forth substantial change in the culture of cricket administration in India, the BCCI's structure would require wholesale reorganisation. To this end, the Lodha Committee's mandate remains unfinished.
The committee has also been requested by the Supreme Court to "examine and make suitable recommendations to the BCCI for such reforms in its practices and procedures and such amendments in the Memorandum of Association, Rules and Regulations as may be considered necessary and proper." If the present verdict is anything to go by, those recommendations, when they arrive, will resonate even deeper.