The BCCI on Friday opposed judicial interference and the Lodha panel’s recommendations which, it said, could interfere with its autonomy even as the Supreme Court questioned whether the sports body was “refusing to reform”.
A bench led by Chief Justice TS Thakur also expressed its displeasure over BCCI’s stand that it cannot accommodate a nominee of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), as suggested by Lodha panel, since it is a private and autonomous body and inclusion of such a nominee may lead to its de-recognition by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
“You are discharging public function… how best your functioning can be improved? It has to be transparent and visible… the way you are doing (discharging your function) and how you are doing,” asked the bench.
Taking note of arguments on its autonomy under the Society Registration Act, and the bench asked BCCI’s counsel KK Venugopal: “Are are suggesting that I am answerable only to the Registrar of Societies? I will be amenable to the criminal law but I will not reform. Don’t ask me to reform. Is it possible?”
It pointed out the irregularities underscored by the Lodha panel. “We have seen the allegations of match fixing and betting. You have no control over these. But you give money in crores. The Lodha committee has said something. All of it has been said to make your functioning more transparent and visible and the effort is to reform the BCCI.”
It further asked Venugopal: “You are dealing with hundreds of crores of rupees. Do you say that you have complete immunity over it and you can’t be questioned? Do you say that you can’t be questioned how you spend hundreds of crores of rupees if not thousands that you collect from the public. Can we record that statement?
Standing his ground, Venugopal replied in affirmative to the bench’s suggestion that collection of funds by selling tickets and through advertisements, BCCI has total control over it and that it cannot be questioned. The senior advocate also replied in affirmative that the funds coming from the broadcasters through advertisements cannot be questioned by the court.
On BCCI’s resistance in having a government nominee, the bench asked Venugopal: “How the presence of a government nominee or CAG would violate ICC rules and attract de-recognition? You are opposing the nominee of the CAG but you are all advocating involvement of ministers and bureaucrats. Does it not create government influence or presence?”
It reminded the BCCI: “The money that you have is in your trust. Are you not accountable to the beneficiaries? This money is in trust with you for whose benefit. It is for the benefit of the people who watch matches. Are you not accountable to them?”
Venugopal replied that instead of following all the recommendations, it would look at other ways too. “We are now going to appoint a consultant for better management of our affairs,” said Venugopal, adding any attempt by the court to interfere would violate Article 19(1) (C) on fundamental right to form associations.
He reiterated BCCI’s position that they would account for their actions before the statutory authorities and said the board was implementing the Lodha panel’s recommendations but it would not accept some of them.
The BCCI is averse to the Lodha Committee recommendations which puts a ceiling of maximum of two terms for office-bearers, one state-one vote, presence of CAG representative on the BCCI board and fixing an upper age limit of office bearers.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Ashok Desai also argued for the Punjab Cricket Association, as he submitted that there cannot be uniform rules for all cricket associations and neither a cap on age limit of office bearers.
At this, the bench asked: “Should there be an upper age limit at all? What is the age at which players retire?” When the court was getting different type of answers, it asked at what age did Sachin Tendulkar retire. “The Bharat Ratna retired at the age of 40,” remarked the bench. It would hear the matter again next week.