SC's verdict on Lodha Panel reforms: One of Indian cricket's biggest victories

For too long the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had operated as its own fiefdom, insulated from the ideals of transparency, accountability and fairness. A coterie of officials monopolised the board and did as they saw fit unless a rival group outwitted them and then did as they saw fit. That the BCCI performed a public function in selecting the Indian men’s and women’s cricket teams was merely incidental. They believed they were answerable to no one and outsiders were a nuisance to be swatted away as quickly as possible.

The Supreme Court, however, turned out to be an outsider the board could not swat away. With one stroke of the gavel, Indian cricket has been remade and the old ways cast aside. By accepting the vast majority of the Lodha Committee recommendations on how cricket in India should be administered, the Supreme Court has delivered a knock-out blow to the board’s Kremlin-like operations and thrown open the doors and windows of the board to allow a bright light to shine and a cleansing wind to sweep through.

 SCs verdict on Lodha Panel reforms: One of Indian crickets biggest victories

File picture of Justice RM Lodha (C). Naresh Sharma/ Firstpost

Better still, the recommendations trickle down, so the country’s many state associations, must fall in line too. The days of regional satraps running these associations like family-owned companies are soon to be in the past.
Back in 2013, when the Supreme Court first took charge of the case and appointed Justice Mukul Mudgal to investigate the allegations of betting and fixing against Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra in the IPL, it raised the hope that this time the BCCI might not get away with business as usual and this time there would be accountability and the board would be forced to swallow the bitter pill.
Yet there was no idea of what cataclysmic forces the case would unleash. The scope of the inquiry grew from Meiyappan and Kundra to the issue of conflict of interest because N Srinivasan was both board president and IPL franchise owner. And then it magically and improbably grew into a review of the board itself.

This was already more than a fan could dream of and while hope kept rising, there was always the thought lurking in the background that the board would get out of this jam as well. But Chief Justice RM Thakur and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla, who heard the case, were relentless and pushed back against all the objections the board raised. Slowly the idea began to take shape that maybe, despite its political clout, the BCCI had met its match at last. In the final order, written by Justice Thakur, he left no doubt as to what he thought about those in the BCCI who opposed the changes.

“The truth is that resistance to change stems partly from people getting used to status quo and partly because any change is perceived to affect their vested interest in terms of loss of ego, status, power or resources. This is true particularly when the suggested change is structural or organizational which involves some threat, real or perceived, of personal loss to those involved.

No wonder, therefore, that the portents of change which the recommendations made by the Committee appointed by this Court symbolizes are encountering stiff resistance from several quarters interested in continuance of the status quo. The fact that the recommendations for change come from a body whose objectivity, fairness, sense of justice, equity and understanding of the problems that are crying for a solution are beyond any doubt or suspicion has made little or no difference to those opposing the recommendation.”

The changes Lodha committee has recommended are all-encompassing but the age and tenure restrictions for officials alone are a game-changer. Ministers and bureaucrats who are in office are now persona non-grata. A BCCI president can no longer be a state association official and vice-versa. That means current board president Anurag Thakur will have to resign as Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association president. Mandatory retirement has been set at 70 years, which is going leave some familiar faces on a sticky wicket. Mumbai Cricket Association president Sharad Pawar, for example, is 75; Tamil Nadu Cricket Association president N Srinivasan is 71 and Saurashtra Cricket Association secretary Niranjan Shah is 72. I’m sure you can do the math.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, ruling your home cricket association as these three have done for at least 10 years each will now be impossible. Under the new rules, officials will be limited to three terms of three years each irrespective of position. They also can’t serve these terms consecutively as the report calls for a cooling-off period between each of them, making it impossible for any one person to monopolise an association or the board. And once your nine years are done, so are you. Cricket will no longer a sinecure for so many.

Ironically, those of us who yearned for a day like today owe former president Srinivasan a debt of gratitude. Had Srinivasan simply accepted the allegations of betting and spot-fixing against his son-in-law Gurunath and ordered an impartial investigation, Aditya Verma, the petitioner in the case, would not have had any grounds to go to court. Instead, Srinivasan’s desperate attempt to outwit his rivals in the board and cling to power precipitated the events that led to this historic verdict.

The BCCI has been given six months to implement the changes, which will be overseen by Justice Lodha. It is likely to be a bumpy ride as constitutions will have to be re-written, elections held, and power handed over, but the final destination is worth a little upheaval in the short-term. If all goes according to plan, a fairer, more open, more accountable and gentler board should rise from the ashes, a board that operates less in secret and shadow and whose officials work for the good of Indian cricket alone and not their own.

The BCCI is dead. Long live the BCCI.

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Updated Date: Jul 18, 2016 20:42:56 IST