On September 30, ten days after Jagmohan Dalmiya’s sudden demise created a leadership vacuum in the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Shashank Manohar left for Delhi. The 58-year-old lawyer from Nagpur, who was tipped to succeed Dalmiya as BCCI president, met former chief justice of India R.M. Lodha and two retired Supreme Court judges. The three judges constituted the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to recommend changes to the constitution and manner of functioning of the BCCI. The meeting lasted an hour and 45 minutes.
Manohar got the top job on October 4, at the board’s special general meeting in Mumbai. It was his second term as BCCI president, and he had his task cut out. The Lodha committee had conveyed to him the issues it wanted to be addressed and the rules it wanted to be implemented, especially those related to conflict of interest in the BCCI. Power politics had cost the world’s richest cricket board its reputation, making it look like an opaque body that was steeped in corruption.
With the Lodha committee keenly watching, Manohar got down to business. Perception, transparency and professionalism became the buzzwords at Cricket Centre, the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. At the board’s annual general meeting on November 9, he wielded the axe on former cricketers. Roger Binny was ousted from the national selection committee, Anil Kumble was removed as chairman of the BCCI's technical committee and Ravi Shastri lost his place in the governing council of the Indian Premier League. At the state level, Narendra Hirwani stepped down as chairman of the Ranji Trophy selection panel of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, as his son Mihir was playing domestic cricket.
Manohar’s intentions were clear: Scrap the six-hat theory (with due apologies to Edward de Bono), and usher in a new maxim: one head, one hat. Or, one post per person. He started with himself: the day he took charge, his son, Advait, quit from the BCCI’s marketing and legal committee. “Contrary to the expectations of the media, the members unanimously approved the rules with regard to conflict of interest,” said Manohar after the meeting in Mumbai. “They also unanimously approved amendments to the [BCCI] constitution. Everybody in the meeting spoke in favour of clean and transparent functioning of the board.”
To address the issue of conflict of interest, the BCCI soon issued a set of rules for administrators, staff and retired and current cricketers. It asked representatives of the state associations to sign a declaration saying they had no conflict of interest. It also set up an ombudsman to decide on issues related to conflict of interest, with the stipulation that any complaint be decided upon within 30 days. The decision of the ombudsman was deemed final and binding. And, for the current term, the BCCI named retired judge A.P. Shah as the ombudsman.
Despite the big-ticket initiatives, it did not take long for people to whisper that the steps taken, though welcome, were “superficial”, and that “selective targeting” was happening. The clean-up drive, it was said, dealt with only cricketers—always the 'soft target' for dyed-in-the-wool administrators. The most difficult problem was the fact that corruption and conflict of interest had their long, gnarled roots in the state associations, whose votes counted for everything in the BCCI.
Niranjan Shah, secretary of the Saurashtra Cricket Association and former BCCI secretary, said he was confident that all state units of the BCCI would adopt the CoI (conflict of interest) rules in toto at the state level. “All these things were discussed at the GBM [general body meeting],” he said. “The whole image of the BCCI has been tarnished in the past two to four years because of this [conflict of interest] issue. It’s a collective decision [to bring rules to address the issue].”
In the BCCI affiliates in Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan, the issue is not just of CoI, but also of inept and corrupt administration. MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad, who blew the whistle on corruption at Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), says the clean-up agenda is focused on easy targets. “A state association changes rules for its own convenience, like the BCCI has been doing,” he said. “However, I have a lot of confidence in Shashank Manohar, but the question is whether these people would allow him to do ‘Operation Clean-up’. These people [state association members] are a united alliance. I am sick and tired of saying it: [they are] united in corruption, united in allegiances. How is it that Rajeev Shukla is chairman of IPL? What about C.K. Khanna? He is vice president of the BCCI, the DDCA, and convener of U-14, U-16 teams.”
Khanna is also chairperson of the BCCI's umpires committee—an appointment that had one veteran board member reportedly commenting, during the annual general meeting, that it was a big blunder. The appointment of Shukla, Congress MP and president of the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association, as chairman of the IPL governing council has also been criticised. It was under Shukla’s chairmanship that the IPL spot-fixing scandal broke.
Expectations from Manohar are sky-high, given his no-nonsense and clean image. But cynics say all BCCI officials and affiliates have changed rules at their convenience. They point to how India Cements, of which former BCCI president N. Srinivasan was managing director, got an IPL franchise while Manohar was an office-bearer of the BCCI.
The root of the problem is the lack of uniformity in the constitution of the BCCI and its affiliates. While the BCCI is a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, its state units are registered either as societies or under the Companies Act. There is utter absence of uniformity in rules and regulations adopted by the BCCI and its affiliates. The Lodha committee was reportedly shocked to find that only three affiliates—West Bengal, Mumbai and Karnataka—had cricket clubs as voters. The committee even asked a senior BCCI official deposing before it the reason for individual members, whose interests were unclear, being voters in a sports association.
Instances of conflict of interest at the state level are many, some glaringly so. Take the DDCA and its corrupt administration. The BCCI had issued a warning and a deadline to the association to submit its audited accounts and get clearances from local bodies to host the fourth Test match between India and South Africa. But, ultimately, it had to relax the deadline, thanks to a reprieve obtained by the DDCA from the Delhi High Court.
Apparently, Manohar was not keen on releasing the advance to the DDCA after the High Court cleared the decks for it to host the match. But BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur wanted to release the advance so that the DDCA could pay entertainment tax in part, as instructed by the court. In the end, Manohar relented. As Azad said, even Manohar's best intentions are hamstrung by pressure from political heavyweights in Indian cricket.
There are instances galore of violations of the new CoI rule, which bars administrators from having any commercial or vested interest in the DDCA. Like Khanna, former cricketer Chetan Chauhan, too, is on a sticky wicket. Currently the 'working president' of the DDCA, Chauhan is also chairman of selectors of the Delhi U-19 team. In October, former cricketers Nikhil Chopra and Sunil Valson resigned as junior selectors when told that the three-member selection panel would be expanded midway through the season. The players were reportedly upset over the sudden change in the committee at a time when the U-19 team was performing well.
Chauhan has also come under the scanner for running his own cricket academy. As per CoI rules for former cricketers, which are applicable to state associations as well, “cricketers on the managing committee of an affiliated unit shall not be considered for appointment as selector”. Says rule C for retired cricketers: “Cricketers appointed as coaches or selectors shall not be associated with any private coaching academies during their tenure.”
Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya, too, runs an academy. Said Azad, “In Delhi, corruption in cricket has been brushed under the carpet, thanks to political patronage.”
Besides Azad, former Test cricketers Bishan Singh Bedi, Maninder Singh, Surinder Khanna, Akash Lal and Sameer Bahadur have publicly taken on Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whom they accuse of allowing corrupt administrators to thrive during his 15-year stint as DDCA president. It is no secret that Jaitley still wields considerable influence in the association even though he is no longer its president.
Experts say the Delhi High Court’s decision to allow the India-South Africa Test match at Feroz Shah Kotla was not a victory for DDCA officials, as the court appointed former judge Mukul Mudgal to oversee the Test match. The very fact that the Test was being supervised by a court appointee indicated lack of faith in the DDCA.
After his appointment, Mudgal asked all short-term tenders be put on the DDCA website and ticketing be done meticulously. He appointed a former deputy comptroller and auditor general to oversee the tenders, thus eliminating irregularities that had crept up in the tender process in the past.
Said former cricketer Akash Lal: “While Delhi's public deserves a Test match, the situation in the DDCA is too grim to allow the match to be hosted.” He said the DDCA had “institutionalised” corruption and alleged that officials took bribes to select players to DDCA teams, right from U-14 to the Ranji level.
The DDCA has also been accused of not explaining how it used the BCCI annual subsidy given to it for developing cricket infrastructure. During practice sessions for this year’s Ranji Trophy, the Delhi team did not have sufficient SG balls to train with, and neither did it get drinking water in nets. The DDCA does not have its own academy or ground, and it is yet to clear dues of its employees and U-23 cricketers for the past two years.
The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association is another black sheep. In 2012, the police charged the former treasurer and former secretary of the JKCA with criminal breach of trust and criminal conspiracy for diverting Rs.50 crore it received from the BCCI as annual subsidy. Allegations have been made against former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, and the CBI has registered a case of embezzlement in connection with diversion of funds. Factional rivalry in J&K cricket is so intense that two different teams landed for the state’s first Ranji match.
Then there is the case of two powerful satraps: Niranjan Shah and Brijesh Patel. Shah is secretary of the Saurashtra Cricket Association and his son Jaydev Shah is captain of the Saurashtra Ranji team. A former India cricketer, Patel is secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association. His son Udit is a member of the Karnataka team. Interestingly, Udit was representing Assam when his father was out of power in the KSCA. Rajesh Kamath, who was Assam coach then, is now back in Bengaluru as coach at the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy. Patel is also the CEO of the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise in the IPL.
If former India skipper and KSCA president Anil Kumble was asked to choose between his role as administrator and his association with the Mumbai Indians and the Reliance Sports Foundation, said critics, then the same should apply to Patel. Those in the know point to Patel's role as strategic adviser at Auro Display, a company that rents LED screens. CoI rules bar administrators from having any commercial agreement with the BCCI or its affiliates.
For his part, Patel has denied receiving any financial benefit from RCB owners. He said his contract with the IPL team was available for the BCCI. But the fact remains that he is associated with the team. When THE WEEK asked him about the BCCI’s new CoI rules, Patel refused to comment.
It has been pointed out that Avishek Dalmiya, son of former BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya and joint secretary of the Cricket Association of Bengal, had represented the National Cricket Club in the BCCI’s recent annual general meeting. The NCC is a club only on paper—it does not own a ground, nor does it promote any cricketing activity. It exists merely as a voting member in the BCCI general body.
There is still no clarity on what former cricketers who hold BCCI offices should do with their media contracts. CoI rules prevent current cricketers who have commercial tie-ups with state associations from continuing such contracts. There is also the sticky situation of cricketers-turned-administrators being told to give up their hard-fought posts in state associations for taking up roles, such as director of the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, which are paid for by the BCCI. Dilip Vengsarkar, who recently took over as director of the NCA, has his own cricket academy in Mumbai.
Even Ajay Shirke, the Maharashtra Cricket Association president who is known as an upright administrator, has not escaped the CoI scanner. A close friend of Manohar, Shirke had resigned in protest as BCCI treasurer after the IPL spot-fixing scandal broke. His family owns B.G. Shirke Construction Technology Ltd, which has been involved in projects of the Mumbai Cricket Association. Shirke also owns the Cadence Cricket Academy in Pune. BCCI rules clearly state that administrators and their immediate relatives cannot be associated with any company or organisation that has entered into a commercial agreement with an affiliate.
Despite all the hype, Manohar’s Operation Clean-up has clearly failed to enthuse sceptics. “What has changed?” asked a veteran cricket administrator. “Earlier, the so-called south zone called the shots. Now the west-central lobby does.”
A legal luminary, who is keenly watching the developments at the BCCI, said: “The people have changed, but not necessarily the intentions. It still remains a big fight. But, ultimately, the truth shall prevail.”
One thing is certain: Justice A.P. Shah will be a very busy man after he takes charge as the BCCI ombudsman next month.
Two can play this game
Despite countless controversies, a number of parties are keen on owning an Indian Premier League team. On November 10, the BCCI invited interested parties to “manage and operate two new franchises for the years 2016 and 2017 but not thereafter”. The deadline is November 30 and apparently, “more than 10” parties have picked up the registration form at the BCCI headquarters at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
The winners would be able to “exploit the team rights, stage home league matches at the stadium provided to the franchises by BCCI, and [they will have] a host of other rights.”
The venues that interested parties can bid for are Chennai, Ahmedabad, Ranchi, Dharamsala, Indore, Kanpur, Cuttack, Nagpur and Visakhapatnam.
Reportedly, the parties that have shown interest are Chettinad Cements Corporation Ltd (part of the Chettinad Group), Harsh Goenka’s RPG Group, industrialist Sanjiv Goenka, the Adani Group, Videocon, Intex Technologies, Yes Bank and NDTV.
The franchises will be decided through reverse bidding, wherein the bidders would quote an amount lower than the base price set by the BCCI. The lowest bidder would get the franchise. The BCCI will give the bid amount to the winner to manage the franchise's operational costs.
Experts believe that despite the short period of ownership, the offer is generating a lot of interest as it gives companies a great marketing and advertising opportunity. “Any company with a 01,500 crore marketing budget will consider this a great opportunity,” said an insider. “They can use the team and players for branding and to get high visibility.”