Lodha recommendations: Bold but dreamy?

The Lodha Report is very well written. It does not pull any punches in describing the malaise that afflicts the BCCI... Some doubts have, however been raised as to whether the Lodha recommendations are practical and are capable of being implemented.

Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Justice (retd.) R. M. Lodha (right) and members Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice R. V. Raveendran (left), arrive to address a press conference after tabling the report in New Delhi on January 4.   -  PTI

Way back in 2000, as the head of the CBI, I was asked by the NDA government to investigate match-fixing allegations against some senior Indian cricketers, which had ignited tremendous public ire and media attention. The government directive evoked some mixed feelings in me. As a former cricketer I was certainly in familiar territory, and I was confident I could handle the task with aplomb.

At the same time I wasn’t sure whether my boys had the legal authority to probe cricket, as there was no public servant involved here, against whom serious charges had been made. My misgivings were swiftly brushed aside by those in power then, saying that since the government had committed itself to Parliament that a CBI inquiry would be conducted, I had no options. We did a fairly thorough investigation and quickly placed some facts before the government. We took the stand that the material collected was not actionable under law. I am only reminded of this interesting past happening while evaluating the Lodha Committee’s report on the ills of the BCCI, and how to remedy them.

I am convinced that the Apex Court has the authority to probe charges of irregularities against the BCCI, particularly in the context of the manner in which it conducted and supervised IPL, and handled the alleged unsavoury role of a private individual, who was part and parcel of one of the franchisees. Having said this, I am not exactly comfortable with the micromanagement of the game that the Apex Court may have to do if it seeks to implement the Lodha report. Laying of broad guidelines with regard to the composition of the body and how to prevent it from being a tool in the hands of any mafia is very much warranted. But possibly nothing beyond.

The Lodha Report is very well written. It does not pull any punches in describing the malaise that afflicts the BCCI. It has scrupulously avoided confusing jargon that would befuddle the millions of cricket lovers, who simply want to know how honest cricket administration in the country has been, and whether maladministration and greed have cast a shadow on the performance of our cricket heroes on the field. The committee’s intentions are clear from the report’s focus on seeing an end to the appropriation of coveted positions in the BCCI by groups close to the Establishment. Some doubts have however been raised as to whether the Lodha recommendations are practical and are capable of being implemented.

The committee’s recommendation that no State in the country should go unrepresented in the BCCI is unexceptionable. But then, in respect of Union Territories, the distinction it draws between Delhi and Puducherry may not stand legal scrutiny. Delhi may have more talent and resources, such as an international standard stadium. Given an opportunity, Puducherry will lose no time in acquiring these. The same applies to other Union Territories as well, because cricket is a cash cow, and there is a certain status symbol attached to it that no region would like to be left out merely because it does not have adequate infrastructure.

The recommendation that the two categories of Affiliate and Future Members be abolished is rational. The retention of Associate Membership however is not. It is this that causes a lot of conflict and litigation. The Lodha committee has said that it is left to the BCCI to decide which one of three Associations in a State, such as Maharashtra and Gujarat would be a Full Member and which others would remain Associate without voting right. This compounds the problem of jockeying for power. In my view, sticking to a formula of one Association and one vote per each State/Union Territory would greatly solve the problem. When there are rival claims for recognition in a State or Union Territory, the nine-member Apex Council suggested by the Lodha Committee should take the decision, and it will be justiciable by the High Court of the State where there is a dispute regarding recognition. The Ombudsman suggested by the Committee could also handle this, but his ruling may again be challenged in a legal forum.

The representation in the Apex Council for one male and one woman each from a Players’s Association to be formed is welcome. Any expectation that these two will be independent and not toe the line of the Establishment is ill founded. Their nomination may be clinical, but their participation/voting in crucial matters could be dictated by the President and his coterie.

The recommendation that no Minister or civil servant shall be an office-bearer in the BCCI may not be sustainable in law. As a civil servant and a lover of the game I might very well like to take part in cricket administration, as long as my Conduct Rules prescribed by government do not prohibit it. At present, if I remember right, a civil servant cannot hold office in a sports body without government permission. This should partly take care of the committee’s anxiety that a powerful civil servant may subvert cricket administration and use his office to appropriate authority that is not his due. The stipulation that a Minister should not hold office in a sports organization could trigger a howl of protest from politicians, cutting across party lines, and is liable to be challenged in a court of law as undemocratic.

The ban suggested on an office-bearer holding dual office-one in the BCCI and another in the State Association- is most welcome. Here again, a powerful entity at the national level can have his dummy in the State, and still control affairs in the latter. In my view, such a ban will at best be cosmetic in many cases.

In the final analysis, one has to take a balanced view of the Lodha Committee recommendations. This is the first time a reform of cricket management of this magnitude has been undertaken. Keeping the context in which this has been attempted, all those who have clean cricket at heart should desist from nitpicking. Let us give it a try with an open mind. The practical difficulties in implementing the report – especially the one relating to legalizing betting on cricket- could surface over a course of time.

When these actually appear, if we have good men at the helm of affairs, they should tackle inconsistencies and lacunae with sagacity. Or else the whole game will get discredited and suffer an avoidable erosion of popular support.

(R. K. Raghavan is a freelance writer and a cricket buff.)

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