There has been much debate about whether the BCCI should come under the RTI Act or not. One of the members petitioners, Rahul Mehra gave us an insight on the issue in an exclusive interview with NDTV.
Q. How are you involved in trying to get the BCCI under the ambit of the RTI?
A. I have been engaged as a lawyer by Mr. Subhash Aggarwal, a well known RTI activist and by a journalist Mr. Alok Varshney who have filed various complaints against the BCCI before the Central Information Commission (CIC) seeking appropriate directions to furnish information in their respective complaint(s). The issue being close to my heart, I immediately agreed to represent the complainants on a pro-bono basis.
Q. Do you think India's poor performance in England could have a silver lining in as much as making the Board more transparent?
A. I am an eternal optimist, which is why I believe in taking inefficient, unprofessional, unaccountable, non-transparent and highly autocratic monopolies like the BCCI and other National Sports Federations (NSF) of India to court rather than adhering to status quo. A close look at BCCI's recent history, be it the match-fixing scandal of 2000 or the 2007 World Cup debacle, reveals that it has never seriously engaged itself in identifying and/or sorting the core issues and problems that plague Indian cricket. All that BCCI has indulged in is making tall promises by appointing committees comprising of former legendary cricketers and thus shooting from their respected shoulders. Administrators have often furthered their agenda by using iconic players as a potent shield. BCCI promised a complete overhaul of Indian cricket due to relentless media and public pressure but all was forgotten within a few months and it was business as usual with the introduction of IPL in 2008.
Thereafter the cricket viewing public was made to believe that all is well despite the scandalous IPL gate. Recently a combination of blatant lust for money which allowed the players to choose club over country, terrible tour scheduling, non-existent bench strength and mass injuries resulted in one of the worst ever defeats for our otherwise numero uno cricket team. Lucky Dhoni and autocratic BCCI should, in fact, thank Anna Hazare's revolutionary movement which caught the imagination of the nation and did not leave any air time or column space for media to discuss the all pervasive systemic rot in BCCI. But as we all know the more BCCI changes, the more it remains the same. Therefore, I know for sure that BCCI, unless forced to, will keep resisting any form of change as maintaining status quo suits them the most.
Q. What has been the BCCI counsel's argument on why the Board should not come under the RTI?
A. BCCI has primarily contended before the CIC that being a private, charitable, autonomous and non-statutory body it does qualify to be a 'public authority' as defined under section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act (RTI) and hence is not duty bound to disclose any information to any member of the public. Counsel for the BCCI also relied upon a judgment passed by the Honourable Supreme Court of India in case titled "Zee Telefilms versus Union of India and Others" wherein it was held in February 2005 that BCCI is not a "State" under Article 12 of the Constitution of India. Another argument made by BCCI's counsel before the CIC is that BCCI is not recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, (MYAS) Government of India as the NSF governing the game of cricket in India and hence cannot be equated with other NSF's who have sought such recognition. Finally, BCCI claimed that for any sports body to fall under RTI Act it must be substantially funded, directly or indirectly, by the state which is not the case as regards BCCI as it does not take any financial assistance from the Government of India. In a nut shell, it was argued that BCCI is a monopoly with complete autonomy without any accountability.
Q. The BCCI seems to care very little for 'public perception' apparently most board officials thought there was nothing wrong with only 1000 online tickets being available for the World Cup Final in Mumbai because they need to answer more to their own members rather than cricket fans.
A. Politics in the Indian cricket establishment is a mirror reflection of what happens during national elections. The class (read millions of cricket viewing public) which ensures BCCI generates the revenue is treated with sheer contempt as it does not happen to be its core constituent/electorate which in fact happens to be its own Member State Association(s). This problem is compounded by the fact that almost all administrators in BCCI are powerful politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists who hold 'honorary' posts instead of professionals or players who love the game and understand its various nuances. BCCI, like our political class, is arrogant and insensitive towards its key stakeholder, the aam aadmi. Be that as it may, I do feel that in the near future, BCCI will be forced by the public, media and courts to be professional in its operations, accountable in its dealings and transparent in its functioning. A progressive and proactive step in this direction is soon going to be taken by none other than the Honourable Sports Minister Mr. Ajay Maken by tabling a historic "National Sports Development Bill", akin to a Jan Lokpal for Sports. However, the Bill may not have smooth passage because some important Cabinet Ministers have clear conflict of interest as they are with the BCCI as its office-bearer.
Q. Give us an example of what the BCCI would like to hide and which would get exposed by an RTI?
A. Since its very inception BCCI has mastered the act of concealing vital information from the general public and has been guarding vital information just as a nation guards its nuclear secrets. For instance, information pertaining to electoral data like list of voters and usage of proxies; administrative decisions like grant of TV rights and other lucrative contracts to a selected few; financial details like Annual Report, Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss Accounts, etc; how much of its earnings are actually being ploughed back into the promotion and development of cricket; minutes of meetings recording the proceedings of its various committees and sub-committees reflecting the decision making process; election procedures, amongst others. Today, only a selected few members of BCCI know as to what really happens within its dark secret chambers. Once BCCI falls under the RTI, it shall be forced to become transparent in its functioning and share all such and other information which the general public as also its players and administrators desire.
Q. Would coming under RTI make the board more accountable. They don't really seem to care about what the fans think, as evident from how N Srinivasan thinks there is nothing wrong in him being a BCCI President and owning the Chennai Superkings IPL team?
A. It is said that sunlight is the biggest disinfectant and BCCI coming under RTI will totally change the way BCCI administers cricket in India. Reason is simple; adversaries and stakeholders within the BCCI, its Member Associations and the general public would have all the requisite information to hold BCCI to account for. For instance, who could have imagined in one's wildest dreams that powerful politicians and administrators running sports in India would one day languish in jail. But our vibrant media and credible information sought under the RTI Act made it possible to unearth scams running into thousands of crores of rupees and those guilty are now being held accountable. We must remember that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. BCCI is the richest and the most powerful cricket board in the world. It is said to be even more powerful than the international Apex body ICC. Being a not for profit, non-transparent monopoly which is accountable to none in the world, conflict of interest have become the bane of modern day cricket administration in India and the likes of N. Srinivasan, K. Srikanth, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, amongst others are some recent example of it. I strongly believe that Indian Parliament as also the judiciary will play a constructive role in forcing NSF's to become transparent and accountable in their day-to-day functioning.
Q. Interestingly it's because of your Public Interest Litigation (PIL) trying to make sports federations more accountable that N Srinivasan gave up the job of secretary of the all india chess federation?
A. Yes, I was appalled as to how a sports administrator like N. Srinivasan could simultaneously hold key offices in two different National Sports Federations, one as President All India Chess Federation and another as Secretary BCCI in total violation of the Government of India Guidelines. By no stretch of imagination is N. Srinivasan the only person flouting Government guidelines as there are many other from his family as also others who have been indulging in similar activities. I am certain that my latest PIL on sports which is pending before the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi will bear the desirable results.
Q. You were once on the cover of a famous weekly magazine for exposing how cricket association like the DDCA (Delhi District Cricket Association) spent more on extra-curricular activities rather than development of the game. Do you think your efforts have been worth it or is the BCCI proving to be too resistant to transparency?
A. BCCI with all its might and power has resisted accountability and transparency. But over the last 11 years I have been able to derive some tangible results though not at the pace that I would have liked to. BCCI, subsequent to the filing of my PIL, has been forced to take utmost care in the handling and grant of TV rights; its term of office has increased from one to two years; it now ensures equal distribution of gross revenue to all its affiliated Member Associations; it has hired a full-time Chief Administrative Officer who runs its day-to-day operations; it established a new state-of-the-art head office in Mumbai called "cricket Centre"; it accelerated infrastructure improvement in some of its centres; it set up a National Cricket Academy in Bangalore; it introduced full time paid selectors, it offered to contribute from its annual revenues to a central pool of Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of India for development of other sports and sportspersons; it introduced pension schemes for all its players, amongst many other such like initiatives. Pursuant to a Delhi High Court order all these and many other suggestions in writing had been formally handed over by me to the BCCI in the year 2005 which the it accepted and promised to implement. By no means is my fight to get various NSF's of India transparent and accountable to the Indian public over as there are miles to go before one sleeps.
Q. And finally, what do you think about an award for being a sports activist? You would surely deserve it?
A. That's very kind of you but I really don't think I qualify for any such award, if one does exist. Be that as it may, I do consider myself extremely fortunate that I happen to be the chosen one to make my humble contributions in holding Indian sports accountable and making its operations transparent. I also believe that we should get various NSFs of India and its administrators within the ambit of the Lokpal and Lokayukt institution as they have recently been held by Kerala High Court and Supreme Court to be 'public servants'. Last but not the least, I sincerely hope the Honourable Sports Minister Mr. Ajay Maken fulfills his promise by tabling the historic 'National Sports Development Bill' in Parliament during this monsoon session. This Bill talks about restricting tenures and limiting age of an office bearer of an NSF, having a minimum of 25 per cent player's representation in every NSF, having an independent Ombudsman, an independent Appellate Tribunal for grievance redressal, free and fair elections by secret ballot, having NSF's fall under the RTI Act, inclusive growth in sports etc. I have been involved in the initial stages of the drafting of this Bill and in case such a progressive and historic legislation is allowed to be tabled and subsequently passed, it will surely be one of the most rewarding days of life. I will consider this Bill as an award bestowed on me and my fellow Indians by our Parliamentarians that I will cherish for the rest of my life.