The Supreme Court of India has asked BCCI president N Srinivasan to step down as the first move towards a fair investigation of the IPL corruption saga. A two-judge bench of India's top court, which made the observation, gave Srinivasan two days to take a decision before it resumes hearing the case on March 27.
While the recommendation is not a direct order, Justice AK Patnaik was unambiguous: "Mr Srinivasan should step down or else we'll be forced to pass an order." He questioned Srinivasan's position as BCCI president asking, "How did he stay on despite all the allegations? His staying on is nauseating for cricket." The other judge on the bench, Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla, told the counsel: "If there has to be a fair and dispassionate enquiry, Mr. Srinivasan must step down."
The development - and the strong language used by the court - is believed to have caught the BCCI by surprise and thrown it into some disarray. While Srinivasan has refused to comment, three vice-presidents of the board have said there was no option but for him to comply with the court's orders. A board meeting is likely to be convened on Wednesday, at which the BCCI's response will be formalised.
The hearing, the first case of the day to be taken up in Supreme Court's Court No. 5, began with the BCCI lawyers stating that the Board agreed with the findings of the Mudgal panel report and asking the court to allow the BCCI to take its own actions in the light of panel recommendations. That was turned down by the court.
A PTI report said that the court stated that while it could not divulge details of the sealed envelope given to them by the Mudgal panel, the BCCI's lawyers were shown certain portions of the report. When the counsel, CA Sundaram, said "We have not seen the contents of the report in the sealed cover", Justice Patnaik is believed to have summoned him to the bench and had him read a portion of the sealed envelope report.
Justice Patnaik said: "Though there is no definite finding in the report in the sealed cover, the allegations are so serious they require further investigation, which the BCCI can't do on its own and it has to be done by an outside agency. That's why we are saying that Mr. Srinivasan must step down for a fair probe....In view of this, I need some answers, come back with an answer."
In his early statements, Justice Patnaik questioned the wide divergence in the findings of the investigations conducted by the BCCI-appointed two-man probe panel and the Mudgal Committee panel. He wanted to know if the BCCI-appointed panel had been "managed." The BCCI counsel's reply was that the two-man BCCI panel did not have the "wherewithal" of the Mudgal panel, that the Mumbai and Delhi police investigations were under way and that the Mumbai police had refused to depose before their panel.
Srinivasan would not comment on the issue saying he had not "read" the court's recommendations. However Ravi Savant, a BCCI vice-president, said if the Supreme Court had issued a clear directive it would have to be followed. His words were echoed by Shivlal Yadav, who said he would be willing to take up any task he is given.
Another BCCI vice-president said no one was prepared for this scenario. "No one knows what can be done now. The court is yet to pass the order. But it is now up to him (Srinivasan). The court has asked him to step down. Otherwise it will pass an order. It is not good for the BCCI," the official said.
"We know what has happened to Subrata Roy [the Sahara chief]," the official said. "He defied the court's order and look where he is now."
The Supreme Court had appointed a three-member committee, headed by former High Court judge Mukul Mudgal and comprising additional solicitor general L Nageswara Rao and Assam Cricket Association member Nilay Dutta, in October 2013 to conduct an independent inquiry into the allegations of corruption against Srinivasan's son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, Super Kings owner India Cements, and Rajasthan Royals team owner Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Ltd, as well as with the larger mandate of allegations around betting and spot-fixing in IPL matches and the involvement of players. The committee had submitted its findings to the court on February 10.