If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are a few more episodes that show that our ‘sporting bodies’ will never, ever, bow down to the law of the land
First, a re-clarification: This is an article which refers to a legal judgement. In no way is it a comment on the judgement.
In the last article (http://moneylife.in/article/78/7882.html), we spoke on how we had filed a very simple Right to Information (RTI) application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of the 'dancing expenses' in Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006.
There we were, with a Chief Information Commission's judgement in our favour, but no information coming our way. Instead, we got veiled hints, sugar-coated threats through 'well-wishers', made all the more impressive because your correspondent used to work out of Pune and Delhi in those days. And Pune was where the favourite of the Gods really had his strengths - he simply was the permanent man from that city. And nobody, but nobody, messed with him there. Also, for the purposes of this article, it is not at all smart to even dream of making fun of anything legal. Though I do have friends who are lawyers who are riots otherwise, when not wearing black and white, or collars.
So then one day a huge big manila yellow legal envelope landed up on my doorstep. It gave me a backache, it was so heavy, because of which I also started wearing reading glasses subsequently. A few hundred pages of legal jargon, typed in that particularly interesting double spacing, with a lot of big words. I was now a Respondent in 'Indian Olympics Association versus Veeresh Malik & others'. The others appeared to be the might of the Indian government, which would scare a lot of people, except me because I grew up as a young boy at an address known as 1, Cemetery Road, which has had a marked impression on me throughout - that's also where some of us learnt how to play a version of golf. At night. So, with more bravery than sense, and without a clue, I turned to the good friend lawyer who had promised me help, and was amazed at the casual way with which he handled the big envelope. Just come back to sign things in a few days and don't worry, is what he said. He never grew up sharing a common wall with a cemetery. And he had a lot of similar-looking huge envelopes in his office, too.
Meanwhile, the judgement from the Chief Information Commission on the subject became a landmark one, being cited by many more applicants demanding information from a variety of 'public authorities' as diverse as schools, more sports associations, and others. My name started bouncing off the Internet like flubber, and the postman was impressed by the amount of Government of India mail I was getting, he thought I might be a spy. I started being approached by the media, but because the case was still in court, I stayed away. My dear friend and RTI guru, Prakash Kardaley, died very suddenly in Pune - which left me very upset, to say the least, but made me determined at the same time to proceed ahead - though with a lot of caution. (As a matter of record, I have not filed a single RTI application in my own name after that date, choosing to guide others instead. Sometimes these people are kind enough to file my RTI applications in their names for me).
The case itself meandered its way; at one stage all the other respondents (the ministry, the sports authority and the Chief Information Commission) were taking their own stands. Some supported the CIC judgement, and some challenged it, and we, of course, demanded that we simply be given the information. The actress became an even bigger star, top and bottom, also middle. At one point in the course of the trial it appeared as though everybody was suddenly not keen to press for the information - which itself was losing relevance because of the passage of time. And meanwhile, some other cases got tagged on with ours at the Honourable Delhi High Court on similar grounds, but I found that my name was always announced first. Boy, did that sound grand!!
But what stuck out was the continued reluctance on the part of the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers to agree that they were liable to the people of India under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Maybe they were under the impression that they were foreigners, and nobody had told them that India went independent in 1947, and the Queen had left. The point we tried to make was that fine, some amount of commercial secrecy and internal working may be essential, but post facto audited accounts were certainly our right - especially when over 90%-95% of the income and expenses came straight from government funds. (The rest also came the same way, but could be debated, as there were PSUs, State governments, grants and other such fine financial terms involved).
At around that time, the minister for sports changed. The quiet but resolute MS Gill replaced the voluble MS Aiyar. But as though by magic, suddenly, really suddenly, the tone of the approach from the ministry of sports changed. All of a sudden they too wanted that the RTI Act to be implemented and made applicable on the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers. And everybody else who had ever taken even a badminton shuttlecock from them without returning it.
The case went on, arguments, trials, responses and counter-replies. The Delhi High Court is air-conditioned and an impressive place. After a while I felt that there were some people who came there to listen to the arguments like others would attend seminars and conferences and debates. Even police officers have to walk carefully here, it seems. I have a friend who is a cop who told me bitterly that they didn't allow him to bring his mobile phone and wireless in and when he retired he said he was going to become a lawyer so that he could do so.
And then one day in April 2009, from the hallowed heights above, the judgement was decided. And immediately reserved. To be announced, finally, on the 7th of January 2010. Details can be found here:
Frankly, I still haven't received the information I asked for, and that's hardly relevant anymore. Fact is, all the information pertaining to the Indian Olympics Association, now has to be in the public domain, and the disclosures are falling out of the cupboards thick and fast. Whether the mainstream media will ever get into the depth of the matter, like trying to investigate how the people who run the IOA and CWG like personal fiefdoms managed to do whatever they've done, or not, is another aspect. The role of some powerful and often controversial godmen is also not being even speculated on, and the businesses they control through these people, though the truths are known even to the poorest man on the street in Pune - and beyond.
The judgement itself is being referred to as "landmark", for which I am grateful, though it is the judge and the legal system that did all the hard work. Here are some of my favourite parts:
"As our society progresses, its goals of achieving equality, social justice and furthering democratic principles remain constant; indeed, current levels of wealth disparities underline the criticality of achieving those goals for all citizens as an urgent objective.
"Today the Government, in a welfare State, is the regulator and dispenser of special services and provider of a large number of benefits. The valuables dispensed by Government take many forms, but they all share one characteristic. They are steadily taking the place of traditional forms of wealth. These valuables which derive from relationships to Government are of many kinds: leases, licenses, contracts and so forth. With the increasing magnitude and range of governmental functions as we move closer to a welfare State, more and more of our wealth consists of these new forms. Some of these forms of wealth may be in the nature of legal rights but the large majority of them are in the nature of privileges.
"A body is performing a "public function" when it seeks to achieve some collective benefit for the public or a section of the public and is accepted by the public or that section of the public as having authority to do so. Bodies therefore exercise public functions when they intervene or participate in social or economic affairs in the public interest.
The last one is very important when referring to some of the new activities carried out by entities claiming to be "privatised" but in effect performing roles of public authorities. More on that in another article on payment-processing systems.
(This is the final and concluding part of the series).
The Commonwealth Games learns that the truth is always in the numbers
If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are some episodes from our sorry sporting past
It is an old rule in politics - if you are caught out in activities which are fairly par for the course, often involving the misuse of funds or assets belonging to the public exchequer, then you have to be able to defend yourself without letting any muck escape upwards. If you try to point fingers at those who are above your horizon, then you will simply not be allowed to go off into the sunset in peace, as all upward trails will be obscured. Anything you say is suspect anyways.
The only alternative left then is to stand alone in a corner and fight it out. Brazenly. Use every trick at your disposal. Maybe you will succeed, in which case you live to fight for another day. Or you have to exit gracefully, and be content with the fact that for the rest of your life you will be allowed to exist, without much ado. But. You. Do. Not. Pass. The. Blame. Upwards.
Suresh Kalmadi appears to be in a jam of this sort. After finessing the art-form of running games which nobody else considered to be anything more than a great party with fireworks, during the eminently forgotten 'Commonwealth Youth Games' held in Pune a few years ago, he obviously set his sights far too high in the killing fields of Delhi. Such is the state of the media in India today, that for better or for worse, if one media-house "breaks" a report of the sort that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Indian Olympics Association are facing nowadays, then the rest will also have to tag along. And it must be said, the centre of action for all this CWG chaos is in and around South and New Delhi - which is where our national electronic and print media seems to find its frontlines.
But would all this have been possible without credible access to the one thing that matters in the first case - the numbers? And therein lies a tale, which is a Moneylife exclusive.
Way back in 2005, the Right to Information (RTI) Act of India was in its first flush of action, and ably supported by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, yours truly filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) - operating those days out of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) premises at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi. IOA and its subordinate as well as related entities, which control every game and sport in India plus a lot more, were for all practical purposes acting like extensions of the government of India, through SAI and the ministry of sports. In short, a great time was had by all.
Except the athletes and sportspersons who went to Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006. There were reports on how they performed in close to miserable conditions - again, nothing new. Indian sports team goes abroad, local Indian population provides training facilities, equipment, local transport, shoes and food - otherwise there is always the gracefulness of the gurudwaras. This has been the reality for ages, and in a pre-liberalisation, pre-Internet, pre-RTI India, it just went on that way. In exchange, you gave them bottles of Indian pickles, or similar.
Except that this time there were reports on the Internet, picked up in small little columns by the mainstream media, which spoke also about the vast amounts of money paid to stars and starlets to come and dance on stage in Melbourne. One famous actress I knew, however, told me she went all the way there for national honour, and didn't know what these payments were about.
So, in a moment of inspired madness, your correspondent filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of these dancing expenses in Melbourne. To be fully aware of the truth on such things, if they had done so, and given any story as an answer, the matter would have probably died there and then.
But no. Authority questioned is authority defied, and so the questioner has to be put in his place. Publicly. The whole establishment, which was the IOA, SAI, ministry of sports and the rest of them, chose to at one stage or the other defend the right of the IOA not to provide these numbers. Or IOA's adherence to the RTI Act. The arguments were various, from outright denial to some innovative ones quoting declarations and speeches which nobody else had heard of - but they all said the same thing - we won't tell you how much we spent on what. We are not liable to the Indian people. That's it. Go away. And the weight by way of legal pressure was amazing.
But the office of the Chief Information Commissioner provided a judgement in the applicant's favour
In addition, it was the clear and outright support from good friends who are lawyers in Delhi, that they would support me all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, totally pro bono, which gave strength for the next episode. Plus the simple fact that MS Gill came into the sports ministry.
Merchandising items like T-shirts, mugs, coins and perfumes were supposed to be in stores by July. However, these items have yet to see the light of day.
The upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held in New Delhi seems to be mired in many controversies. Allegations are flying thick and fast on stadia not being constructed on time, equipment being hired for astronomical rates and huge amounts of money being siphoned to shell companies in the UK.
Now it appears that the Organising Committee (OC) of the CWG has been dragging its feet on releasing the official merchandise for the sporting event.
If you were looking for metal coins with CWG logos, or T-shirts with the mascot Shera, or for that matter even a branded CWG mug, you will be in for a surprise. Merchandising sponsor Premier Brands has been informed to put these items in deep freeze till 6th August. Obviously, this could severely dent the revenues that the organisers hope to make from these merchandising items, which normally sell like hot cakes before any big-ticket sporting event.
Moneylife spoke to an official from Premier Brands, who informed us that it has been informed by the OC to delay its merchandising launch to 6th August. "They (the OC) have said that they are not satisfied with the merchandising products and asked us to launch the product from 6th August," an official from Premier Brands admitted, preferring anonymity.
The first phase of sales of merchandising items was to begin from the second week of July, with sales vans and a store at the OC headquarters being the points of purchase.
The OC could have raked it in from the sale of official merchandise. Just as an example, even in a non-soccer playing nation like the US, sales of official FIFA World Cup merchandise crossed $35 million.
A CWG official told Moneylife that the merchandise would be ready in stores only by 6th August. However, he was not willing to answer any other queries. Lalit Bhanot, CWG's official spokesperson, was not so forthcoming. At first, he said that our call was not audible. When we called again, his phone was switched off.
Early marketing of these merchandising items would have created the much-needed hype and awareness which the CWG sorely needs.
In fact, piracy has been rampant, thanks to the apathy on the part of the OC. Several merchants were selling unofficial branded products with the mascot printed on them. In July, the OC released an advertisement affirming its copyright over the CWG logo and threatened legal action against those found selling its merchandise.
There are various brand properties related to the games that can be leveraged by an official licensee - the 'Delhi 2010' logo, the 2010 CWG mascot (Shera), games based on the event, pictograms, other signature elements and the CWG 'Team India' logo.
This is but one of the many controversies which are threatening to derail the games. The report from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has cast a long shadow on the OC - the anti-corruption watchdog has pointed out the poor quality of construction material and grant of work to disqualified agencies in several CWG projects.
Allegations are also being made by a few sections of the media that the OC allegedly awarded a contract to a British company without following proper procedures, a charge that is being denied by the organising authorities.
On top of all this, a number of athletes have said that they would rather stay away from the CWG. The list includes stalwarts like Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt, Shelly Ann Fraser and Asafa Powell; tennis aces Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) and Andy Murray (Britain) and British cyclist Chris Hoy.
So will the show go on? One can only wait and hope.