Cats, bells

The Supreme Court has ruled that the BCCI, its officials, state associations and members thereof can be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Hold the hosannas, though. The fact that the SC had to make the ruling is in fact the real story — the BCCI holds itself above the laws of the land, sheltering under its “private body” tag while abrogating to itself the right to name and run the team that represents the country. Successive cases, and the resulting rulings, have been chipping away at that armor, but the impact of each such small step is diluted by the BCCI’s battery of lawyers and the many delaying tactics the body employs. Also, this is a battle being played out over many small fronts — thus, just a week ago the BCCI was still maintaining its autonomous status in connection with a taxation issue.

Right here, right now, the Court has permitted the prosecution of two officials of the Kerala State Cricket Association. The logical next step — the actual prosecution — remains a distant dream, however. The best you can say about this judgment is it at the least ends the debate about whether the BCCI is above the PCA, and by extension above the laws of the land.

The judgment that could really set the cat among the pigeons is the one relating to conflict of interest, where the SC is hearing a petition filed by AC Muthaiah against N Srinivasan. For those who came in late, the crux of the petition involves a post-facto change in the board’s constitution to permit Srinivasan to own a team while remaining an office bearer in the BCCI, and also a member of the IPL governing council.

Briefly, India Cements bought the Chennai Super Kings franchise in 2007. N Srinivasan was then the treasurer of the BCCI; he was also — still remains — vice-chairman and managing director of India Cements.

At the time of the purchase, the relevant clause (6.2.4, Regulations for Players, Officials, Umpires and Administrators) in the board’s constitution said:

“No administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in the matches and events conducted by the board.”

The IPL is, even by the board’s own admission, is a sub-set of the BCCI and not an independent entity; as Shashank Manohar repeatedly said when the Modi imbroglio was at its height, overall authority vests with the BCCI president. Therefore the constitutional provision above applies to the IPL as well, which in effect means that Srinivasan was not permitted to bid for, and own, a franchise.

When it became apparent that this violation could snare Srinivasan in legal complications, the BCCI executive then led by Sharad Pawar, in September 2008, slipped an amendment into place. As with most such acts of the present administration (the most recent being the late amendment of auction rules, that has triggered a protest by MI and RCB), only a few words were changed, but the difference was crucial. The amended clause read:

“No administrator shall have directly or indirectly any commercial interest in any of the events of the BCCI, excluding IPL, Champions League and Twenty20.”

This is the crux of the case before the SC. Back in September last year, when the apex court first heard the case, the Board centered its argument on whether Muthaiah had any business bringing the case to court in the first place. The former president had filed the case, the BCCI contended, only because he had lost the election for president of the TNCA to Srinivasan. The court sensibly contended that the motivation of the petitioner could not be the yardstick to measure the worth of the petition itself.

That’s the last we’ve heard of it. The court had at the time deferred its judgement. Four months down the line, the wait continues.