It has taken the Law Commission nearly two years to study the question whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should be brought under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act, and its recommendation is a resounding yes. The question had been posed by the Supreme Court in July 2016, while accepting most of the Justice RM Lodha Committee’s recommendations to clean up India’s apex cricketing body. The Supreme Court had earlier in 2015 ruled that the functions of BCCI are by their very nature “public functions”, even though it operates as a private body and is registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act since 1928. Among the sweeping reforms prescribed by the Lodha panel to make BCCI transparent, it was recommended that RTI should be made applicable to it. After the Law Commission, headed by Justice BS Chauhan, took up this question — it has come to the conclusion that the BCCI has hitherto functioned like a ‘limb of the state and has state-like powers’. Since it virtually acts as a national sports federation, it should be viewed as an “agency or instrumentality of State, under Article 12 of the Constitution, thereby making it amenable to the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32,” says the Law Commission report. In the past, the BCCI has benefited from land grants and huge tax exemptions, with the report noting that just in a 10-year period from 1997 to 2007, it got tax breaks totalling a whopping Rs 21,683,237,489 or roughly over Rs 2,168 crore. Apart from this public money which otherwise would have gone to the national/state exchequer, the BCCI has been allowed to leverage its monopoly status to raise huge amount of resources, which should also be viewed as ‘substantial funding by the government’. This is noteworthy, because the BCCI has always loudly claimed that it received no monies from the Government of India.
Damningly, BCCI’s monopolistic position “resulted in the board flying under the radar of public scrutiny, encouraged an environment of opacity and non-accountability,” thereby probably giving the public impression that “corruption and other forms of malpractices are adversely affecting one of the most popular sports played in India” — the Law Commission has stated. Pointing out that all other sports bodies listed as national sports federations (NSFs) are covered under the RTI Act, the Law Commission has asked why BCCI continues to be an exception. It is now being argued that if this recommendation is accepted, the BCCI’s actions including player selection can be challenged in court. On this point, the Committee of Administrators (CoA), appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee reforms in BCCI, has welcomed the Law Commission’s recommendation to put BCCI under the RTI scanner, so long as the selectors are kept out of it. What has to be appreciated is that the country has no law to regulate its biggest money-spinning sport, leaving the responsibility with BCCI. It was only after the IPL spot fixing scandal broke in 2013 that the Supreme Court took up the task to clean up the cricketing board. Even now, large sections of BCCI and several state cricket associations are waging a dour rearguard battle to stymie reforms being pushed through by the Vinod Rai-headed CoA. Reforms like 70-year age cap, total 9-year tenure and cooling-off period after every term for BCCI office-bearers are still being bitterly resisted, as are those like one-state-one vote and distribution of powers between the elected office-bearers and professional appointees. The stakes are especially high, considering that the CoA has been awaiting implementation of the new BCCI constitution before holding fresh elections, but is facing a challenge to even hold the annual general meeting, such is the intensity of the factionalism. The ongoing 11th edition of Indian Premier League, guaranteed to be a commercial hit, also invited controversy last month when the CoA, for the first time ever, sold IPL media rights for next five years (2018-23) through online auction. This was done in the teeth of fierce opposition by parts of the BCCI old guard, who wanted to stick to their earlier auction system in which bids were submitted in sealed envelopes, and was therefore susceptible to rigging. It speaks volumes that the e-auction this time generated Rs 6,138.1 crore, compared to Rs 3,851 crore raised for the 2013-2018 period. The Law Commission has now said that while the RTI Act applies to public authorities, the BCCI can also be regarded as one even if it remains a private body. It is now up to Parliament to change the RTI law so as to bring BCCI under its purview. The role of heavyweight politicians, who continue to be associated with the country’s cricketing affairs, will need watching here.