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Neeru Bhatia
Neeru Bhatia


Weathering the Lodha-storm

76LodhaNew Laying down the law: Justice (retd) R.M. Lodha | PTI

With deadlines looming, BCCI is on the back foot and trying to get the Lodha panel off its back

The working committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India met at a luxury hotel in Delhi on August 22 for its last session before the annual general body meeting, scheduled to be held in Mumbai on September 21. The discussion lasted less than 90 minutes, and even though very little was said about the Lodha panel reforms after it, BCCI president Anurag Thakur gave a clear indication by saying, “BCCI will explore all legal options available.”

Looming deadlines add to the war of attrition between the BCCI and the Lodha panel, which was appointed by the Supreme Court. The Lodha panel had suggested sweeping changes in the working of the BCCI in a bid to reform the cash-rich governing body. The board had, reluctantly, agreed to meet the panel on August 9 after its request to defer the meeting was turned down. Thakur took leave of absence and secretary Ajay Shirke was left to meet the panel. The BCCI was handed a time-bound schedule to comply with the recommendations, including an 11-point agenda to act upon.

The BCCI has informed the panel that after its meeting on September 21, it will call an additional general body meeting not later than September 28 to put forward the new constitution to all its members for adoption.

Shirke filed the first compliance report on August 25, as per the instructions of the Lodha Panel. The first point in the report is related to “formally adopting the new articles and memorandum of association” as prepared by the Lodha committee for which the target date is September 30.

Interestingly, after the meeting with the panel on August 9, the BCCI had sought the advice of retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju and, subsequently, a review petition was filed on August 16. The petition seeks a five-judge bench to hear the petition and wants Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, who was on the two-member bench, to recuse himself.

Defending the board's decision to seek legal advice from Katju—a move reportedly suggested by senior political leaders involved in cricket administration—a top office bearer said, “We are not the legal experts, Justice Katju is. He has given detailed review of the Supreme Court judgment.”

Katju termed the Supreme Court verdict on Lodha panel recommendations “unconstitutional and illegal”and said it violated the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act and the Constitution. He admitted that the court's intention to “reform”the BCCI was good.

Working committee members queried about the status of the review petition filed by the BCCI. They were informed that if the review petition and the possible curative petition that the BCCI plans to file do not succeed, the Lodha panel recommendations would be binding on the BCCI and its members.

“First let the BCCI comply, then we will comply,” was the response from most of the members after Shirke briefed them on the status of compliances. Most state associations do not want to get on the wrong side of the judiciary and are watching how the fight between the BCCI and Lodha panel pans out. For example, Cricket Association of Bengal's AGM was due on July 25 and its president Sourav Ganguly was reportedly advised by the legal team to go ahead, but he decided against it. Lodha panel has already declared any election for a state association post null and void after the Supreme Court order on July 18. The panel also issued a fresh warning to state associations last week, telling them to put their respective AGMs on hold.

Justice Lodha panel's appointment has been a subject of much debate not just in the BCCI but also in sections of the judiciary. The BCCI is feeling 'victimised' and considers itself caught in a confrontation between the judiciary and the government.

Said a high profile insider in Indian cricket, “One man [Justice Lodha] cannot be so good that he will take decisions on various issues such as cricket and medical colleges. It is not the job of the judiciary to make law.”

Brushing aside the BCCI's claims, a top legal expert, on conditions of anonymity, said: “The appointment of Justice Lodha in multiple cases is not being done by only one judge in the Supreme Court. Different benches and different judges have reposed their faith in him. He is, by far, one of the finest, most incorruptible and popular chief justices India has had.”

The aggressive posturing of the BCCI has not affected the Lodha panel. “It [the panel] is not surprised by the BCCI's decision to file a review petition,” said a source close to the panel. “The commission is trying to exercise utmost patience. A long rope has been given to them both in terms of timeline and directions. When it acts, there will be no corner left for them.”

Shirke said if more than one association was representing a state, they were given time till September 25 to decide among themselves and inform the BCCI. The board also informed the Lodha panel that a list of those officials who will become ineligible to hold office, based on the panel's recommendations, is being prepared. The final list will be circulated to state associations by September 25. It also said the processes for adopting a new IPL code of conduct and for the formation of a players' association had been set in motion. Updates regarding these will be given to the panel in the second progress report, which will be filed within the next 15 days.

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