Justice R.N. Lodha, former chief justice of India, is used to orderly audiences in courtrooms. He was in for a surprise on July 14. The small conference hall of the India Habitat Centre was packed. Then, Lodha pronounced the quantum of punishment for Raj Kundra and the Rajasthan Royals, and Gurunath Meiyappan and the Chennai Super Kings for their involvement in the spot-fixing that happened in Season 6 of the Indian Premier League.
The moment he finished, questions were hurled at him from multiple corners simultaneously, each questioner louder and more insistent than the other. By the time Lodha finished, his voice was dry and his hair dishevelled. As he walked out with fellow panellists—retired justices Ashok Bhan and R.V. Raveendran—the security personnel had to form a cordon to keep them safe from the charging cameramen.
Two days later, the Lodhas called on retired justice A.N. Patnaik, who had just returned home from hospital. Patnaik had formed the three-member commission to probe the spot-fixing charges. Chaired by retired justice Mukul Mudgal, the commission handed in its report in February 2014. Lodha congratulated Patnaik for kicking off the process that has now shaken up cricket administration in India.
This was not the first time Patnaik was being congratulated for this by colleagues. In January, Justices T.S. Thakur and F.M.I. Kalifulla passed a judgment striking down a controversial clause in the BCCI constitution that allowed board officials to have commercial interests in the IPL and the now defunct Champions League T20. The amendment had allowed ICC Chairman N. Srinivasan to own the CSK while being part of the BCCI.
After delivering the judgment, Thakur called Patnaik and said that he was honoured to complete what he had started. A deeply content Patnaik told THE WEEK: “It was not a question of individuals, but about the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has kept up its high tradition.”
Part 1 of the Lodha panel's job is done. The BCCI is shaken, so is Srinivasan. The two teams, CSK and RR, got red cards for two years. Kundra and Meiyappan got life bans from all cricket-related activity for betting on the game and for bringing disrepute to it. It is a double whammy for Srinivasan—CSK is out, so is his son-in-law. The message from the Supreme Court is that no one gets immunity. Officials, investors, players... everyone has to pay.
As action has been taken against administrators and team principals, activists now want punishment for errant players. The Mudgal panel had submitted a sealed envelope with the names of errant players to the Supreme Court. The apex court has kept the players' names secret.
Former BCCI president I.S. Bindra told THE WEEK, “The names of indicted players, too, should be released.” Lawyer and sports activist Rahul Mehra wants the Supreme Court to “make it public or give it for further investigation, at least”. Mudgal's comment on the issue was cryptic: “Supreme Court must have had very good reasons to keep it sealed.”
Part 2 of the Lodha panel's report is on restructuring and reforming the BCCI. As the release of that part is keenly awaited, all eyes are on IPL COO Sundar Raman, who is facing CBI investigations. Vivek Priyadarshi, a superintendent of police with the CBI's anti-corruption wing, is investigating Raman's role.
Thakur and Kalifulla had appointed Priyadarshi when B.B. Mishra retired in March. An IPS officer, Mishra had led the primary investigations into the spot-fixing scandal. Lodha said Priyadarshi was expected to turn in his report soon. A hint of wrongdoing and it could be Raman's head on the block next. Lodha had ripped into the Rajasthan Police saying that the probe into Kundra's role in spot-fixing was “not taken to its logical conclusion”.
Meanwhile, the BCCI is in damage control mode. IPL Chairman Rajiv Shukla flew to Kolkata to meet BCCI Chairman Jagmohan Dalmiya. An emergency meeting of the IPL governing council will meet on July 19 to discuss the way forward and the fallout of penalties imposed by the Lodha panel. Eventually, the two camps in the BCCI—led by former Union minister Sharad Pawar and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley—will have to agree on the way forward. Legal brains in both camps are already at work.
Jaitley & Co did not seem to want Srinivasan to quit as ICC chairman. Lalit Modi, IPL's founding commissioner, has been attacking Jaitley incessantly. So, the Union finance minister would want to keep Srinivasan in play, to halt, or at least slow down, Modi, who is itching to return to Indian cricket, if not to India.
Naturally, everyone within the BCCI feels that the punishment was a bit too harsh. But Patnaik said that it was fair. “I am very happy with this verdict,” he said. “It started with the verdict by [retired justice] Santosh Hegde. He declared that the BCCI was a public institution. From that, we have come this far. The powerful BCCI and very powerful people who were not looking at interest of cricket came under judicial review. Cricket is on its way to being cleaned.”
But, the punishment has devalued the IPL brand. “We cannot sell a suspended team, for sure,” a senior cricket administrator said. “Look at the National Basketball Association [in the US], not a single rule has been changed for the last 60 years or so. That is why it is a success. But, we know the spirit of the [court] order has to be maintained. These two [CSK and RR] are very popular teams.”
Mudgal called the punishment “measured”. “It has not gone to the extreme of terminating the franchise,” he said. “Yet, it is a sufficient deterrent to people. Earlier, only players were targeted, not officials.” What about player being affected? Lodha said it was not the panel's concern. And, Mudgal asked, “When the Kochi Tuskers and Pune Warriors were terminated, did anyone voice concern for players? The IPL is not just about these two [CSK and RR] teams.”
Vidushpat Singhania, sports lawyer and secretary of the Mudgal Committee said, “A strong message has been sent that such nonsense will not be tolerated. [The punishment] is based on degree of fault—starting from reprimand to ban. The judgement is fact-based. A ban was improbable. It would have been possible only if the team official had been fixing or encouraging fixing.”
Lawyer Mehra said, “In any other country, this kind of judgment would be termed an eyewash. But, in the Indian context, it's a huge thing. When did you ever have two teams suspended? Is this enough? No. But, is this a step in the right direction? Yes!”
Mishra, former head of the probe, gave credit where it was due. “My team investigated Kundra. Probing Meiyappan's conflict of interest and the role of India Cements was entirely the work of the Mudgal Committee. The betting bit was investigated by the Mumbai Police. Voice samples were collected by the Mumbai Police; we got the forensic opinion expedited. A signal has been sent to cricket administrators that you cannot fool the public.”
Before Lodha read out from the 57-page report, the Srinivasan camp and majority of the BCCI officials were sure that offenders would be let off with a slap on the wrist. Maximum punishment they expected was a hefty fine and a reprimand. The two-year suspension was a shock. Thanks to internal politics, state teams have been suspended from domestic competitions before, but those actions had not left the tournament standing on one leg.
A six-team IPL would be “difficult”, said a senior BCCI official. Money is the issue. The contract with the official broadcaster, SET MAX, is for a minimum of eight teams. The broadcast rights deal will end in two years, but SET MAX has a right to first refusal. “All our partners, not just broadcaster, will have to be taken into confidence for [a six-team IPL],” said a veteran administrator. “The six franchisees will have to agree to a reduction in central revenue, which is mostly from broadcast rights. And, SET MAX will reduce that, too, if we have fewer teams and fewer matches.” The chances of franchisees agreeing to this deal are almost nil, sources said.
The anti-Srinivasan faction in the BCCI wants contracts of the erring teams terminated and new bids called for the vacant slots. But, the Indian constitution prohibits double jeopardy. “There cannot be a second punishment [for the same mistake],” a legal expert said. “The Lodha panel suspended the teams according to the operational rules. The matter is now solely between the BCCI and SET MAX. If the BCCI does not get two new teams, the board and franchisees will have to see reduced financial results.”
Another senior administrator added that “RR and CSK licences can be terminated only if the two teams do not pay their annual licence fee during the suspension tenure.”
The buzz is that bids could be invited from Pune, Indore and Kanpur. The defunct Kerala Tuskers and the BCCI are at loggerheads over an arbitration judgment that said that the board must return Rs550 crore to the franchisee. The BCCI will exhaust all legal options before coughing up the cash.
Ahmedabad would have been an option, but the Gujarat Cricket Association is building a new stadium. The Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera is unlikely to be an IPL team's home ground. The BCCI is also worried that it may not get the valuations that it expected and got for new teams even five years back. And, IPL 9 is just 9 months away.
A BCCI official suggested that the board take over the administration of CSK and RR and call them Team Chennai and Team Rajasthan. The CSK top brass nixed the idea outright. Srinivasan's aide Kasi Vishwanath told THE WEEK, “We have had no discussion with the BCCI so far. All that you hear about going to court or retaining players are rumours. At no time will we give up on our team. We are consulting our legal team on all aspects. The BCCI will not decide on anything without consulting us. CSK has worked hard to build its identity.”
Vishwanath said CSK will not retain marquee players like M.S. Dhoni and Suresh Raina. “Players are on an annual contract,” he said. “They are open to go into the auction pool. We cannot stop them from playing.” It is highly unlikely that Dhoni would waste two years warming the bench. The same goes for Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo and others. After all, cricket careers are only getting shorter.
Patnaik says the battle is won, but not the war. “I am very glad the case went into the hands of judges who are straight, independent and honest,” he said. “Once a good precedent is set, subsequent judges cannot go back.” The BCCI, too knows this. There is no going back, and the road ahead looks tough.
With the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals suspended from the Indian Premier League, rumours of the return of the Kerala franchise to the fold have been doing the rounds. A court-appointed arbitrator, former chief justice R.C. Lahoti had hit the BCCI with a financial shocker by awarding Kochi Tuskers Rs550 crore as compensation for termination of franchise agreement in September 2011. Soon there was a buzz that the owners of the team were considering a reentry into the league against the cash award. All members of a consortium which owns Tuskers refused to comment on their decision. The BCCI, however, seems keen to pay up and invite a new bid for Kochi.
As of now, the return to the IPL is not easy for the Tuskers. First, the BCCI does not want it back as the consortium members were always at loggerheads with each other. Second, the owners have not said they did not want the money and had fought hard for it in the arbitration.
The IPL governing council has decided to challenge the award given in the High Court. And a BCCI office bearer said the chances of Kochi Tuskers returning to the IPL were “negligible”. When N. Srinivasan was BCCI president he was willing to give compensation to the franchise with a reasonable rate of interest. But it did not materialise because the owners were adamant on 18 per cent interest. A source said eventually the BCCI would have to pay the amount. However, there is no reason the BCCI cannot invite bid for another team for Kochi.
Two days after the Lodha panel pronounced the quantum of punishment for the accused in the IPL controversy, questions are being raised over the panel's validity. On July 16, Justice Markandey Katju, former judge of the Supreme Court, sparked a debate by questioning the apex court for the three-member commission appointed by it being given the power to decide the punishment. “The power to impose punishment is with the court,” he wrote in his blog.
Calling it “outsourcing of powers”, Katju wrote: “If this is legally permissible, then why cannot every judicial function be outsourced? I have grave doubts whether such outsourcing is valid.”
The legal fraternity, however, is divided on the issue. While Katju got support from constitutional expert Fali S. Nariman, who wrote an email to him saying he agreed with him, former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan disagreed with his viewpoint. “The Supreme Court has full authority to delegate power to other committees as long as it can be challenged in a court of law afterwards,” he said.
Echoing similar views, Justice Mukul Mudgal told THE WEEK: “The Supreme Court is fully competent to do this. There is nothing wrong in its decision to form a panel of retired judges to pronounce the quantum of punishment. It is a Supreme Court order, it is binding, of course, subject to challenge as per judicial proceedings.”
Senior lawyer Rahul Mehra, however, urged the panel to go beyond its mandate. “Judges have power. What they say will be taken seriously. It is important for them not to get bogged down by the mandate,” he said. “Take recourse of mandate and enlarge the scope if the system has to be reformed and made more regulated, accountable and transparent.” Since the BCCI itself requested the court to decide the quantum of punishment, the order, according to Mehra, becomes a precedent.