New Delhi: Sports Minister Ajay Maken has said he will not compromise on two features of a new bill that wants to make sports bodies in India more transparent.
So the Right to Information Act, Mr Maken says, must apply to all sports organisations included India's cricket board. And those who head sports federations must not be older than 70.
These twin highlights of his Sports Bill 2011 have upset not just the cricket board, but some of the most senior ministers in the cabinet. At a meeting last evening, five ministers who head sports bodies contested Mr Maken's bill, despite the obvious conflict of interest.
"I am enthused by public support ..I will fight for my bill," said Mr Maken in an exclusive interview to NDTV.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), one of the world's richest sports organisations, has resisted attempts at regulation because it is not funded by the government. Making it accountable under the Right to Information Act (RTI) would allow public access to its financial transactions. "If the BCCI puts accounting in its balance sheets, why are they scared of RTI?" dared Mr Maken.
It is the cultish nature of the BCCI, many allege, that permitted and encouraged financial transgressions its blockbuster domestic T20 tournament. The Indian Premier League or IPL, as it's known, is currently being investigated by multiple agencies and a parliamentary committee for tax evasion and foreign exchange violations. "IPL and cricket events get tax and customs exemptions," Mr Maken pointed out. "That is public money. We have a right as people to know where all the IPL funds are coming from."
Mr Maken has been asked to redraft his Bill, with some ministers suggesting that the current version impinges too far upon the autonomy that sports bodies may be entitled to. There's also the fact that some of the most powerful men in Indian politics double up as leaders of sports bodies. At the cabinet meet last evening on the Bill, there were five ministers who fall into that category: of Praful Patel, Farooq Abdullah, Sharad Pawar, CP Joshi and Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Extensive reports in the media today questioned why these ministers, who had an obvious conflict of interest, did not recuse themselves from the discussion over the Sports Bill. So did Mr Abdullah's son, Omar, on Twitter.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar who currently heads the International Cricket Council and has served in the past as the chief of India's cricket board was so upset with the Sports Bill that he threatened to file a complaint with UPA President Sonia Gandhi if the cabinet signed off the draft that was circulated last night.
Mr Abdullah, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, allegedly told the cabinet that while he's 73, he's far fitter than some younger ministers. This, he said, proves that there's no need for the age ceiling of 70 that Mr Maken has proposed.
The Sports Minister is unfazed by the criticism of his government towards his bill. He's confident that if such a bill had been enacted earlier, the Commonwealth Games would not have been seeped in the sort of turgid corruption that made international headlines. Suresh Kalmadi, who chaired the Organizing Committee for the Games, is now in jail; so are many of his aides. They have been accused of hiring firms who quoted the most expensive rates for equipment and services, allegedly earning handsome kickbacks in return.