So the saga of Lodha reforms continues (Column: Just Sport)
Since when has the Supreme Court become a reformist body?
The critical question was posed by critics when the apex Court appointed Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee first to fix the quantum of punishment for those found guilty of spot fixing in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) and then asked it to reform the governance pattern of the Indian Cricket Board.
Now the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has echoed the question in the Supreme Court to the surprise of many who thought the the reforming of the board is settled and sealed by Justice Tirath Singh Thakur a day before retiring as the Chief Justice of the apex court.
Jumping into the ongoing legal battle on behalf of the Railways, Services and Association of Indian Universities, Rohatgi resented the downgrading of their board membership from permanent to associates and sought to recall the judgement based on the suggestions of the Lodha panel.
He has reiterated the arguments already in public domain, that the public sector agencies have been promoting cricket and employing cricketers.
What is worse, Rohatgi said, is the rule that no public servant or minister would represent them has affected them badly. He asked how the court downgraded their membership without even issuing notices to the three full member units.
Rohatgi then played the old tune of the board being registered under Societies Act in Chennai and that some of the state units being formed under Companies Act, making it sound remake.
A new bench, headed by Justice Dipak Misra with Justice Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar and Justice Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud, both of whom sat with Justice Thakur from time to time, is willing to revisit the judgment and look afresh at some of the contentious issues the erstwhile board officials were not happy with.
The new bench straightaway modified the January 3 order on the disdqualification of office-bearers in the board and its affiliated units, clarifying that an official can serve for a cumulative period of 18 years, nine years in the board and another nine in a state association.
No sooner the modified order was issued than a board vice president staked claim to be president as the seniormost, not realising that under the new rule quite a few other board office-bearers can also throw their hats into the ring provided they don’t come under the cooling-off clause.
The board officials would be happy if the familiar executives Prof Ratnakar Shetty, who is General Manager, Game Development, and Dr Maturi Venkata Sridhar, the General Manager, Cricket Operations, could stay in their positions in the interest of the game and continuity. Both of them had been key officials in Mumbai and Hyderabad state associations.
The bench does not appear to be too happy with the nine-member panel of administrators to run the board till an elected body is put in place. It wants the list to be pruned drastically before it takes up it up on January 24. It also questioned the amicus curiae Gopal Subramanium if there was anyone 70-plus in the list and he replied that there was one and that he would explain the reasons for his inclusion.
The court wanted the list to be kept confidential as some of them may be dropped when it is finalised.
Kapil Sibal, appearing for the board, tried to impress the bench how the reforms would adversely affect the functioning of the board and its finances, referring to the decision to remove board president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke.
The court said it would go into some of the issues after Sibal argued that “nobody is left to deal with board’s financial issues with International Cricket Council (ICC) as ad hock arrangement cannot run.”
Sibal also pointed out the Indian board contributes 70 per cent to the ICC revenue and has been getting 22 per cent of it from the world body which now plans to reduce it to 11 per cent, cuasing a loss of Rs 8,000 crore.
The burden of the board’s argument is that the Lodha Committee itself had done flip flops, the glaring one being to recommend the appointment of retired bureaucrat as administrator after banning them to hold any position in the board / state associations.
As suspected, the board bided its time till Justice Thakur retired and it is now reopening a whole gamut of grievances and complaints against the Lodha Committee.
The Dipak Misra bench is willing to reopen the case and give it a patient hearing.
So the saga of Lodha reforms continues.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)