Former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha relaxes at his Panchsheel Park residence over a cup of tea with the air of a team captain after a successful innings. He says the Committee, appointed in January 2015 by the Supreme Court of which he was chairperson, has done a thorough job in recommending reforms to clean up the BCCI administration and make the cash-rich cricket body accountable to the public and players. Justice Lodha says the ball is now with the Supreme Court.
Rumours that the BCCI is not too happy with the committee recommendations does not bother the former top judge, who says it was quite expected that a complete overhaul of a “1940 model” vintage cricket administration would attract “multiple reactions”.
In this interview, he opens up about the gruelling task the three judges — himself, Justices Ashok Bhan and R. V. Raveendran — undertook for a year to cleanse cricket for the diehard fans in the sub-continent.
He speaks of how the committee found Indian cricket trapped in the iron grip of a few operating from the ivory towers of the BCCI, why government ministers are the wrong people to engage in cricket administration, how he implemented his belief in gender equality at workplace for the benefit of women’s cricket, why players form the core of cricket and why the IPL, despite guilty of slipping into an “orgy of excess” in the past, should be tolerated.
Question: How exciting, how tough was the job assigned to you?
Answer: It was tough, because if an idea is conceived by the Supreme Court the delivery becomes very difficult. We had made a lot of research, got very insightful and informative inputs from all sections of people who are actually following the game. That helped us in knowing the diverse aspects of sports administration. We had the players’, administrators’, journalists’ and the writers’ perspective. We had the common man’s perspective too. It helped us a lot. It was quite complex and tough. We were able to do whatever we thought was good for the development of the game and better administration. What was put before us was the 1940 model. Over a period of time the engine had become weak and inefficient. The upholstery was uneven. The body had a lot of dents and scratches. They are symbolic. When I mean engine I mean the administration. Upholstery means uneven voting for the members. Dents and scratches mean a lot of allegations of corruption and spot fixing and betting etc. It was an old model. We could have done with small changes but we thought of providing a system that could run a marathon race. The idea was built on giving a long-lasting reform structure. We have done our best.
Did it look like you were trying to break into an exclusive club?
Not really. The functioning had always been behind closed doors. Even if good things were done it was done behind closed doors. Some laxity and inaction was also because of no exposure to sunlight. We met Shashank Manohar. He was not president at that time. It was in the offing that he was likely to take over. He was very positive. As a matter of fact whatever we discussed was found implementable by him. And he did. It was obviously incomplete. Not comprehensive. Many of the officials were positive. Ultimately they come from State associations and the State associations, with multiple structures, have hereditary, life membership; They have membership to individuals, clubs, institutions. There is so much diversity and there are problems in voting power in State associations.
Did the players share their helplessness in getting into associations?
Quite a few did. The players who gave everything to the game and then retired could not enter the associations because they were not given membership. Some leading players of their era had this grievance. Some were diplomatic and some gave personal experiences with the administration. Karnataka, for example. Here was a tenure headed by Anil Kumble and (Javagal) Srinath. But they did not contest after their tenure. I found the players honest and well meaning and they wanted improvement in the game. The information they shared was intended for that purpose.
In the report you talk of receiving odd calls…
There are two things. Many calls were received. People wanted to share so much. We could not meet all of them. Even during a morning walk people met us and shared information. A lot of information was available. General things. Everyone watches the game and wanted to share.
At the end of your gigantic effort, were you surprised that your understanding of cricket administration was different from the time you began it?
I remember cricket as a gentleman’s game. Of late, with so much information available, the last seven-eight years what we heard was not something absolutely new.
One of your recommendations was about keeping Ministers and Govt. officials out of BCCI posts. But Ministers are essentially politicians…
The post of office-bearers may be honorary but it requires full-time attention. It is not an hour-or-two-in-a-week job. It is not sufficient to discharge your duties and obligations in the BCCI, whatever post you hold. A Minister’s job is also a full-time constitutional job. Our concern was: if you are a Minister you are not able to devote full time expected of you to the office if you are holding a BCCI post. You have to decide on your priorities. If you have passion for the game you would prefer to be in the BCCI than a Minister. Mr. N. K. P. Salve was President of the BCCI and also a Minister in Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet. She told him once he was not able to give sufficient time to his office work. I believe he told her that ‘I do what I love’ and if need be was prepared to give up the Cabinet position. This was more than 30 years back. Now the duties in the BCCI have increased multi-fold. It is not possible for the Ministers or Government servants to discharge two full-time duties. Ultimately politicians come from the society. They do so many good things; they may not be doing so many good things. All the classes in the society can’t be painted with the same brush. Can you imagine a company of Rs. 10,000-crore functioning with part-time directors? The answer is ‘No’. It is the same position in the BCCI. That is why we thought it may not be justified if a politician or a Government servant is not able to give full time to official duties.
The BCCI has become a very rich body. You have said the cricketers are treated like employees.
The primary stake-holders are viewers and cricketers are core of that system. Core area is something you would always like to value. Like in a forest no traveller is allowed to enter the core area. The players have to be given full attention and their requirements have to be taken care of. We have devoted a chapter to registration of agents. Cricketers can work through qualified agents. The agents would manage the cricketers. The agent is the best person to guide them.
You have ensured voice to players. Did the players share their concern?
We did not meet any current cricketer. We know their difficulties. Their playing schedule was tight. The former players told us what goes on. The retired players would be the voice for erstwhile cricketers and the current lot. When you run an administration you must have all shades of opinion. Only then you can look at things objectively. A person may be very knowledgeable but his opinion may be one-sided. That is why a person who had headed the judiciary knows the importance of taking things from people who matter and decide on what is good for the institution. The Players Association may not be the decisive force but they would provide the perspective. It is your choice to accept or reject. In the Apex council we have suggested two out of nine members. But players can tell you so much about the game.
Your views on getting women cricketers their due?
We always try to bring gender equality. I appointed seven judges in the Supreme Court and I could get one lady judge. She is the only woman judge in the Supreme Court. We were told that the IPL has changed the section of spectators. We were told how many women now watch cricket in the house and stadiums. They would watch an absorbing match instead of a TV serial. We met women cricketers and learnt about the lack of recognition which they otherwise deserved. We have tried to bring a sense of equality. Women are as knowledgeable as men, full of ideas. There was no justification in ignoring women players and spectators.
The whole trouble started with the IPL controversy. The format has been tolerated too…
The format is not at all disturbed. About the IPL Governing Council (GC), one of the key members told us that the time had come to provide the GC with financial powers. Many of them suggested it be made a separate company. Like the English Premier League model. But we thought without the IPL the BCCI would lose its sheen. And the money that IPL brings. We thought the IPL should have an independent GC. The Apex Council which governs the BCCI should be other than the IPL GC. Of course both are answerable and accountable to the BCCI General Body. Limited autonomy had been sought.
Your views on having a Uniform Constitution in the BCCI and the State associations.
The BCCI is a Society, private organisation. As the Supreme Court has said, with tacit approval of the State and Centre the BCCI has acquired monopoly over cricket. When a body like this governs the game you can’t have distinct voting rights for the States. That is what has been rectified in Australia where six States had 14 votes. Three States had three votes each and two States had two votes each. One State had one vote. Reforms suggested same voting rights. No distinction was made among States. The passion of cricket in the country should integrate States with equal voting right. Of course, the BCCI is the only body authorised to organise cricket in the country but when it comes to voting it is equal.
A Mumbai boy recently made a world record…
We have recognised that the BCCI had done a fantastic job of spotting talent, organising infrastructure and holding tournaments, flawlessly. The BCCI deserves credit. At no point of time any competition has been cancelled. What good has been done should be appreciated. But over a period of time some things need to be improved. Some events had unfolded and they required improved functioning from the BCCI. That is what the Supreme Court had observed. And cricket reforms have been suggested.
Some players were surprised to find themselves in situations of conflict of interest?
Yes. Even some leading players who had retired from the game did not have an idea. But they are not dishonest in their heart. They were paying back to the game but they never told that, in ethical terms, they were in conflict. Their lack of legal awareness was apparent. We have suggested education and awareness programmes for the youngsters. The IPL earnings should not spoil the youngsters. Senior cricketers can take over the role of mentors.
Why do you think the BCCI has resisted reforms and the RTI?
The earlier efforts were unsuccessful. The RTI Act is a legal issue and sub judice. It may not be covered by the RTI Act. They are entitled to appeal. That is why we have suggested for the legislature to seriously consider whether the BCCI should be brought under the purview of the RTI Act. Irrespective of whether the BCCI is brought under the RTI Act, what we have provided to achieve transparency is more than enough. All the decisions would be made known to everyone. Cricketing matters to cricketers. It is like the Supreme Court cancelling coal blocks because the allocation was not transparent. When the Government auctioned they got about Rs. 3 lakh crores. The BCCI has two new teams in the IPL and got about Rs. 360 crores through their auction. The moral of the story is ‘don’t wait for judicial intervention. Be transparent. Get more and give more’.
(This story was first published on January 14, 2016.)
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