New Delhi: The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud has reserved the order in the BCCI vs Lodha matter after the last hearing on July 5. After two years and nine status reports of the court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally looks like it is just steps away from going back to running the game as they were accustomed to.
While the final verdict is awaited, an important facet of the last hearing was the bench observing that there was scope to consider modifying the original orders of the Apex Court in regards to the ‘One State-One Vote’ and ‘Cooling off period’ - clauses in the Lodha Committee suggestions that the bench of Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla had approved in July 2016 while passing their original order.
It is quite clear from the observations of the three-member bench headed by the current CJI that the repeated pleas of the BCCI about the “practical difficulties” in adopting the Lodha panel’s suggestions have not fallen on deaf years. The bench is coming around to the BCCI’s view that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of Indian cricket to enforce guidelines such as a three-year cooling off period in between administrative terms and restricting every state to one vote each which will undermine the stature of some Indian cricket’s traditional strongholds.
In some quarters, it is believed that overturning the observations of former CJI TS Thakur and RM Lodha is a step in the backward direction. However, those voices are being reminded of the reasoning given by judges in their observations on July 5.
Citing the need for continuity and smooth functioning of the board, CJI Misra said prima facie the court does not accept the three-year cooling-off period recommended by the Lodha panel. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud seemed to agree with the BCCI lawyer’s objections that there should not be any cooling-off period for those who want to contest the election for a different post in the board hierarchy.
Reacting to the arguments against the ‘One State One Vote’ recommendation, the bench agreed that there were several ‘age-old’ associations which deserved to continue despite the Lodha reforms suggesting otherwise. “Every State has a vote, but there are age-old associations, services, clubs, etc., with long years of cricketing service to the nation which cannot be ignored,” the CJI observed.
It is important to remember that board officials had strong objections in accepting these clauses as they felt that it would hurt their day-to-day functioning. In fact, the bench also went ahead and said that it would consider the idea of reinstating five selectors in the senior selection committee as also change the eligibility criteria to 35 first-class games from the present one wherein only former Test players can become national selectors.
The other question resonating louder than ever is the efficacy and future of the CoA. So far, the two-member body has been unable to implement its mandate to ensure the reforms are put in place. It is worth recalling that former secretary Ajay Shirke was removed for failing to implement the same Lodha reforms, but the BCCI officials don’t seem to have made any such plea in the court or in closed corridors.
Former CJI Lodha has made it clear that the observations of the current bench which could see a change in approach from the SC with regards to handling the BCCI matter is disappointing.
“The very objective of better governance would be defeated if the reforms, especially related to cooling-off and ‘One State One Vote’ are diluted. These two recommendations are integral part of the reforms. In fact, they play a huge part in the process to remove the monopoly of some officials to stay in their posts. It is bound to impact transparency. Without cooling-off period, some officials would establish their monopoly on cricket administration,” Lodha had said.
The bench took a different view though, observing the cooling-off wasn’t needed if a person was contesting elections for a different post, not that the same official could keep functioning in the same post year after year. Also, the fact that no observation was made on the 70-year age cap despite Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Maharashtra and HP, questioning the need for the cap was another clear example of the court not feeling the need to have old warhorses when new dynamic members can handle the reins of the BCCI.
Speaking to CricketNext, a BCCI official kept things very simple, saying, “The bench has time and again shown that the interest of Indian cricket is paramount. Certain sections have tried to make this an adversarial situation, but that is not the reality. Cricket shouldn’t suffer under any circumstance.”
Quite clearly, in this long drawn out battle, the administration of Indian cricket has been quite chaotic. It can only be hoped that the three-member bench brings the uncertainty to an end when it passes its final order.