By NR Mohanty
Will the Justice RM Lodha-led Committee Report result in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally coming under the public scrutiny through the RTI?
The three-member panel comprising a retired chief justice of India and two retired supreme court judges was appointed last year by the apex court to make recommendations about the restructuring of the Board in the wake of a series of scandals that brought the cricketing body under the judicial scanner.
Among the many sweeping recommendations that Justice Lodha committee has made earlier this week is its forceful plea to bring the BCCI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act — “The committee feels that since the BCCI performs public functions, people have the right to know activities of the BCCI. Whether RTI Act is applicable to the BCCI or BCCI is amenable to RTI is sub-judice. We have recommended the legislature must seriously consider bringing BCCI within the purview of the RTI Act.”
Over the years, since the RTI Act came into effect in 2005, BCCI has strongly resisted the proposition to bring it within the ambit of the RTI Act. Its main contention has been two fold – that it is a Society registered in Tamil Nadu and that it does not receive government funds. So it should be treated as a private entity, not public authority.
In 2011, the then sports minister, Ajay Maken, piloted what was called National Sports Development Bill based on the recommendations of Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee. The Bill made it categorically clear that only those sports bodies which would agree to come under the purview of the RTI Act would enjoy the right to use ‘India’ as the team’s name — “ In order to represent India at international events and to have a right for a particular sports federation to use ‘India’ or ‘Indian’ in the sport scenario, the federation shall have to comply with Chapter IV (Unethical Practices in Sports) and Chapter IX (Applicability of Right to Information Act)”.
The message of the sports ministry was loud and clear — if the BCCI wanted to continue as the body that was responsible for the selection of the official Indian cricket team for international games, then it could not escape the RTI net.
But then the sports minister’s bold proposal to reform the sports bodies came to a nought when the Manmohan Singh cabinet rejected the Bill. The rejection was on expected lines. There were several ministers in the Manmohan government who had built deep routes in the BCCI over the decades; they presided over the kitty comprising thousands of crores; they wanted to keep the shenanigans of the BCCI under wraps.
The leading opposition party, the BJP, too did not make any hue and cry over the matter as many of its leaders were leading lights of the cricket body as well as other national sports federations.
The collective might of these politicians with vested interest in sports bodies succeeded in ousting Ajay Maken from the sports portfolio. With his ouster the sports bill died a natural death. No sports minister, thereafter, has mustered the courage to revive the bill meticulously drafted by the Mukul Mudgal committee.
The BCCI’s breather was, however, short-lived. In 2013, Madhu Agarwal, an RTI activist, sought information from the BCCI regarding some of its policies. But the BCCI refused to respond to her request. She then moved the Central Information Commission (CIC) for a directive to the BCCI to provide the information.
On 10 July, 2013, the CIC sent notice to the BCCI to appear before it and present its case. But the BCCI refused to take cognisance of the CIC notice saying that it did not come under the ambit of the RTI Act and therefore it was not duty-bound to respond to it.
When CIC threatened to resort to penal provisions owing to the non-response, the BCCI moved the Madras High Court to restrain the CIC from proceeding on the matter. The high court at Chennai has stayed the CIC proceedings. The matter remains sub judice, a fact alluded to by the Lodha committee.
The issue, central to the CIC notice and the subsequent stay by the Madras High Court, is whether BCCI should be construed as a Public Body. The matter had come up before the Supreme Court in 2005, though not in the context of the RTI Act.
A television network had moved the Supreme Court under the Article 32 of the constitution (direct jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to protect the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution) to challenge the BCCI’s decision to abrogate the contract for sports coverage.
The Supreme Court had refused to entertain the case under Article 32 of the Constitution, as it said that the BCCI could not be designated as ‘state’. But at the same time, the apex court made a significant observation — the BCCI regulates and controls the game of cricket in India to the exclusion of all others; it chooses the national team; It is not just a body undertaking private activity; it is performing public duty. Therefore, it would come under the writ jurisdiction of the high courts under the Article 226 of the Constitution.
The Lodha committee report has largely reiterated what the Supreme Court had observed about the BCCI 10 years ago, in a different context.
But the Lodha committee recommendation asking Parliament to enact a law to bring BCCI under the RTI Act is bound to come a cropper, given the past experience. It would only be possible if the Supreme Court endorses the CIC position and makes BCCI amenable to the RTI Act by a judicial pronouncement.