BCCI reforms: New hope for North-East cricket

The recent committee appointed by the BCCI will look into the implementation of the Lodha panel reforms, while mulling over issues like ‘One State, one member, one vote.’ For the deprived states waiting for a chance to rub shoulders with their more eminent contemporaries, this could be a sign that the Board is finally ready to bat for North-East cricket.

The boys of the Shillong Cricket Academy.

The BCCI was thrown into a state of turbulence when earlier this year, its president and secretary were ordered to step down for failing to comply with the apex court’s order. It has been trying to get its house in order ever since. While the Board continues to drag its heels on the Lodha recommendations, the oft-neglected North-East sees a ray of hope.

The weather, security and infrastructure have often been mentioned as major obstacles in bringing it into the Indian cricket mainstream, but General Secretary, Meghalaya Cricket Association (MCA), Naba Bhattacharjee’s selection in the seven-member committee appointed by the BCCI, may just hold some promise for the associates and affiliates after all.

Where's the uniformity?

A year ago, fairness and uniformity were the buzzwords as the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha committee ushered in a new era in Indian cricket – where the fiefdoms of the BCCI would cede authority to a more democratic setup, the founding principles of good faith and equity would replace the labyrinth of backdoor politics and goodwill would once again emerge as a valuable currency.

At one level, it is this sense of righteousness that led to the recommendation of ‘One State, one member, one vote’ — a rule which, 12 months down the line, continues to rankle the board and its members.

Even the ICC, the game’s apex body, recognises only 12 nations as full time members. It could be argued, therefore, that the BCCI, in following a similar template within its demography, is acting in a prudent manner and not trying something out of the box.

Once the BCCI toes the Lodha panel line, East Zone, which currently has Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Tripura and Assam as its members, will get a boost of six new members in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur and Mizoram. With Mumbai, Vidarbha, Saurashtra and Baroda absent from the full members list, the East Zone, emboldened by 11 members, could tilt the scales heavily in its favour — putting a question mark over the premise of equity which the Lodha recommendations seem to so fervently support.

The Sikkim under-19 team for 2016-17.

However, the emphasis on ‘governance’ notwithstanding, the ‘One state, one member, one vote’ was billed a game-changer as it would wrest power hitherto bestowed on a handful of member states and bring the North-East back into the reckoning. But nothing much seems to have changed since then.

The BCCI’s Committee of Administrators (CoA), which was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the working of the BCCI and the implementation of the Lodha reforms, has been holding meetings since January to take stock of the situation.

While the correspondence between the Northeastern states and the CoA is still on, “The ball is in BCCI’s court. It needs to amend its constitution to include all states and once that happens, we automatically become permanent members,” Bhattacharjee told Sportstar.

“The other state associations, though, have filed petitions with the Supreme Court to reconsider certain (Lodha) directives and once the court listens to their pleas (mid-July), the BCCI will hopefully start changing its Constitution. It (Constitution) should be passed at the next AGM in September,” he added.

NADP goes off the radar

Over the years, there have been many proactive approaches to help the North-East. For instance, back in 2003, the New Area Development Programme (NADP) was launched under the leadership of the then BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya, with the aim of ‘spreading the sport to the remotest areas of the country.’ The initiative was to be funded by the board while the member states would provide the infrastructural support.

The ambitious project, though, went off the radar soon, mainly due to a lack of communication between the Board and the North-East states. It was revived in 2012 under the leadership of the then BCCI president, N. Srinivasan, who emphasised on “the development and promotion of cricket in areas outside the jurisdiction of the 30 full members of the BCCI.”

Bhattacharjee, however, revealed to Sportstar that the NADP has met formally only once since early 2016, but has been holding several informal meetings. He lauded the committee’s “good work to obtain sanctions to develop infrastructure etc in the 6 NADP states — Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. But with the (intervention) of the Lodha report, all is at a standstill. Hopefully, things are moving now, though slowly.”

When Anurag Thakur took charge of the Board last year, he not only mulled over doubling the subsidy to all the NADP member states, but also announced, “In future, you (associates and affiliates) will get a lot of support from the BCCI including infrastructure funding,” adding that the Board was in the midst of “creating a blueprint” for cricket in the North-East.

That said, Lobzang Tenzing, president, Sikkim CA, said there had been “no discussion at all” regarding the matter. “After the Lodha Committee came into the picture, the BCCI has been more responsive towards the North-East. There has been some marked change in the Board’s attitude but the ground reality is different,” he added.

Less money, more concerns

Until last year, the associate and affiliate members were supposed to get Rs. 50 lakh each as annual grant. Sikkim, being an associate member under the old constitution, was entitled to the fund, but Tenzing said, “We’ve not got that money.”

In April last year, the Supreme Court cracked down heavily on the BCCI’s method of disbursing funds. While the Mumbai Cricket Association and the Gujarat Cricket Association were allocated sums to the tune of Rs. 60 crore, the coffers of as many as 11 member associations had been found to be empty for five years, with Arunachal, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland facing acute shortage of funds.

“Even the dues, which were there before, have not been paid. We are taking loans from well-wishers and members, while some corporate houses are coming forward to conduct a few matches. But we face a lot of trouble while hosting district tournaments,” Nagaland CA president, Neiphiu Rio said.

Infrastructural development seems a distant reality, at least in the foreseeable future. “Whatever promises were made regarding a new stadium, nothing has happened,” said Rio adding that the cricket association is yet to receive any communication from the CoA in this regard.

In Meghalaya, where a long rainy season is often a hurdle for competitive cricket, an indoor facility was seen as the need of the hour. Therefore, Thakur’s assurance that “the foundation stone for the indoor facility (in Shillong) will be laid and a plan, budget and 12-month timeline will be put in place," augured well for a sport trying to leave its mark in an ‘uncharted’ territory.

“I’ve been trying to get the cricket facility up and running. It was approved earlier, but with all these problems coming up, the project has been stalled. The CoA has also given its sanction and the BCCI will take up the work. We don’t want to handle the finances. The Board will take care of it,” Bhattacharjee said.

The financial indifference, though, hasn’t left Meghalaya untouched. “The last three years, we haven’t got any money from the Board’s side. We even wrote to them (expressing our situation), but they kept saying, ‘we’ll create infrastructure’, but nothing happened,” he said.

Norms for reimbursement

But for the members to claim the Board’s infrastructure subsidy, certain norms need to be adhered to. The BCCI will reimburse only 50 per cent of the expenditure incurred with the proviso that the association submits an audited statement of its accounts.

According to Bhattacharjee, whatever sum the Meghalaya CA did receive in the past, could be put down to “a very good accounting system."

“Reports of all activities through the year and documentations of all the tournaments are sent to the BCCI,” Rio said, adding that some members had not submitted their accounts on time and “that has affected the others also.”

Lease troubles

While other associations in the North-East continue to grapple with small reserves, Sikkim is troubled by concerns about consolidated land holding. The BCCI rules require members to either acquire land on the city outskirts or get a long-term lease for at least 30 years, to build a stadium.

The clock is ticking for Tenzing and his association, which “has a ground leased from the state, but it expires in 2022. Meanwhile, we are holding discussions with the government to extend the lease since the BCCI will only part with funds if it’s a 30-year contract.”

The lone bright spot

Despite the hitches in the day to day activities threatening to thwart the expansion of cricket in this part of the country, the region is making noticeable progress. A significant stride came in the 2011-12 season, when Manipur won the BCCI Associate and Affiliate Members Under-22 tournament and emerged runner-up in the women’s tournament.

In the 2013-14 season, it won the Associate & Affiliate Members tournament at the Under-19 level, while finishing runner-up at the Under-16 level. It is worth pointing out here that Manipur was given associate membership in 1998, but wasn’t allowed to take part in BCCI tournaments until a decade later.

Similarly, Meghalaya’s demands for rightful funds may have fallen on deaf ears, but for Shillong CA, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013, there’s no dearth of motivation or talent.

“Shillong has sent many Ranji players to represent Assam. We have been doing well in the BCCI Associate and Affiliate tournaments, besides hosting inter-district, inter-college and inter-school matches. There’s the autonomous Shillong Cricket Academy where 350-odd boys between the age group of 8-14 years come and practise every day. We also have a very big ground near Garo hills, which has a turf wicket as well,” Bhattacharjee said.

With the state churning out talent, Bhattacharjee has also arranged for exposure trips, besides sending the U-16 and U-19 cricketers to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. And it has paid rich dividends with Meghalaya emerging runner-up to Bihar both in U-16 and U-19 Associate Members tournament during the 2016-17 season.

Nagaland isn’t too far behind either, with its 12,000-seater cricket stadium in Dimapur, proving to be a shot in the arm for cricket enthusiasts. Built by the state government in 2012, the stadium was only the second in the entire North Eastern region. “The ground is okay, however the galleries aren’t complete yet. At least, we have the floodlights to play day and night games,” Rio said.

Naba Bhattacharjee, General Secretary, Meghalaya Cricket Association.

“We’ve a lot of potential but the kids (here) lack opportunities. Even coaching camps are sporadic because all this involves money,” he added.

And with Sikkim too sending its players to BCCI’s Associate and Affiliate U-19 tournaments, the North-East is not only participating, but contributing towards enhancing its status quo in Indian cricket.

Strict Domicile Policy

With interest in cricket continuing to grow rapidly in these states, providing the right environment and motivation to the players is paramount. But to balance state interests with the game’s development, it is pivotal to foster talent within one’s own territory.

“If you want to develop the game within your state, you have to give your players a chance. We’ve a sizeable population interested in cricket. Roping players from outside is unnecessary and detrimental to our players,” Bhattacharjee said.

Similarly, Sikkim too follows a strict selection policy. “One should be a resident of Sikkim, but need not be a Sikkimese by birth”, Tenzing said.

Ray of Hope

According to BCCI officials involved in the deliberations, it is high time that everyone acted on the implementation of the Lodha reforms. However, the general consensus is that efforts must also be made to ensure that the disqualified members too continue to remain in the fray.

The recent committee appointed by the BCCI will look into the implementation of the Lodha panel reforms, while mulling over issues like ‘One State, one member, one vote.’

For the deprived states waiting for a chance to rub shoulders with their more eminent contemporaries, this could be a sign that the Board is finally ready to bat for North-East cricket.