In what can be termed as a victory of democracy and transparency, plus a humiliating defeat for the arrogant, corrupt and opaque Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) and all the influential men, who are parasites on this country’s wealth and clout, the Law Commission Report has strongly recommended that the Cricket Board has all the reasons to come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI) Act, as it is “substantially funded” by the government over the last so many decades.
The Law Commission, which works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law & Justice – in its report nails the BCCI, which has been dodging to come under the RTI. The Commission observes, “If the government is foregoing a significant amount of money (in the form of tax or other levy), which otherwise would have been deposited in the national or state exchequer, and would have been public money’, it would qualify as indirect “substantial funding” by the government. And, it would follow that the body/entity receiving such benefits would be a ‘public authority’, even though it may be a private, non-statutory or non-government body, thereby putting such a body squarely within the purview of the RTI Act.”
Chairman of this report, Justice Dr BS Chauhan has categorically recommended that since all other sports bodies under the National Sports Federation (NSF) are listed under the RTI Act,“it is inconceivable as to why BCCI should be an exception.”
What the Report studied
The scope of the study of this report as directed by the Supreme Court was: whether BCCI would qualify to be a `public authority’ so as to fall under the purview of the RTI Act; what would be the ambit of the terms `substantially financed; and `directly or indirectly’ financed/funded as mentioned in Section 2 (h) (d) (ii) of the RTI Act and; whether tax exemptions to the tune of thousands of crores and provision of land at highly discounted rates/nominal value, by the Central and state governments, for the construction of cricket stadiums amount to indirect `substantial funding’ by the government?
The report, quoting various court decisions, nationally and internationally, reiterates, “even if BCCI is continued to be regarded as a private body, but owing to its monopolistic character coupled with the public nature of its functions and the ‘substantial financing’ it has received from appropriate governments over the years (in the form of tax exemptions, land grants et al) it can, within the existing legal framework, still be termed as a ‘public authority’ and be brought within the purview of the RTI Act.”
The Report also states that, the BCCI by its own admission (in its Memorandum of Association) says it is committed to laying down policies of the game of cricket in India and selecting teams to represent India at international fora. Thus, it qualifies to come under the RTI Act.
Other Vital Reasons for BCCI to come under RTI Act:
The Report points out that, `there are certain other relevant factors that ought to be taken into consideration that qualify BCCI to come under the under the RTI Act. They are:
1. The uniform of the players of the Indian team (as selected by BCCI) contains the national colours and their helmets display the Ashok Chakra.
2. BCCI, though not a NSF, nominates cricketers for the Arjuna Awards etc.
3. The Parliament and the State Legislatures chose not to enact a legislation to govern the sport of cricket, reflecting tacit recognition on the issue afforded to BCCI.
4. Recently, the apex court reaffirmed that BCCI is the “approved” national level body holding virtually monopoly rights to organize cricketing events in the country.
5. ICC recognises BCCI as the ‘official’ body representing India.
6. BCCI practically enjoys a monopolistic status in controlling and regulating the game of cricket in India. BCCI controls the policy formulation related to cricket and its implementation, affecting the country at large, which is essentially a State function.
7. BCCI and its actions/activities, directly and indirectly, affect the fundamental rights of citizens, players, and other functionaries.
BCCI is `monopolistic’ but its work is that of `public functions’: …the monopolistic nature of the power exercised by BCCI, the de facto recognition afforded by the government, the impact of the Board’s actions/decisions on the fundamental rights of the players, umpires and the citizenry in general, entail that the nature and character of functions performed by BCCI are those of public functions.
Any NSF receiving a government grant of Rs10 lakh comes under RTI: In reply to an unstarred question, on 27 March 2012, the then Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, in the Lok Sabha, Ajay Maken, stated that the Government in April 2010, declared that all the National Sports Federations (NSFs) receiving a grant of Rs10 lakh or more would be treated as ‘public authority’ under section 2(h) of the RTI Act. Thus, RTI Act is applicable to all such NSFs being deemed ‘public authorities’.
Maken reiterated that, so far as BCCI is concerned, the government of India has been treating it as an NSF and has been approving its proposals for holding events in India and participating in international events abroad.
Again on 27 July 2016 to the Lok Sabha, Vijay Goel, the then Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports reiterated the same opinion as that of Maken. The Report observed, “The answer of the Minister clearly shows that the government of India has been treating BCCI as a NSF, and therefore it should also be treated as a ‘public authority’ in terms of section 2(h) of the RTI Act.”
BCCI is “substantially financed” indirectly: “It may be accurate to say that the Central government does not extend any direct financial assistance to BCCI, but it is also on record that it has been giving financial assistance in other forms and manner such as:
Granting concessions in income tax, customs duty etc.
Providing land at excessively subsidised rates, among others.
State governments have also provided land at subsidised rates, at many places to cricket associations (for example: The State of Himachal Pradesh allocated about fifty-thousand square metres land to Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association on a ninety-nine-year lease at Re. one per month)
BCCI has enjoyed tax exemptions of thousands of crores of rupees. To be precise, between 1997- 2007, the total tax exemption amounted to INR 21,683,237,489/- (INR Twenty-one billion six hundred eighty-three million two hundred thirty-seven thousand four hundred eighty-nine)
It may also be noted here that from 2007-2008 onwards, the registration of BCCI under section 12A of the Income Tax Act, 1961, as a Charitable Trust, was withdrawn.
It is worth mentioning here that the government, Central as well as the States, allowing the use of their infrastructure by BCCI, regularly at the time of events or even otherwise also tantamount to ‘substantial financing’
It may be noted that the amount of revenue that can alternatively be generated by the government from making available such infrastructure to any third party, on payment basis, makes the level of this financing particularly ‘substantial’.
The Central as well as the state governments allowing the BCCI to have a monopoly in the game of cricket, impliedly authorising BCCI to raise funds/generate resources from numerous other sources, funds and resources, which otherwise could have been directed to the national/ state exchequer, also amounts to ‘substantial financing’
As the Board controls the profession of cricketers, its actions are required to be judged and viewed by higher standards…keeping in view the public good as also the welfare of the sport of cricket. It is, therefore, wholly undesirable that a body in-charge of controlling the sport of cricket should involve in litigations completely losing sight of the objectives of the society.
Earlier in 2016, the Lodha Committee Report had made the following key recommendations:
The Legislature must “seriously consider” bringing BCCI under the purview of the RTI Act.
There should be a steering committee headed by former home secretary G.K. Pillai with former national cricketers, Mohinder Amarnath, Diana Edulji and Anil Kumble as members.
The term of an office bearer of BCCI shall not be of more than 3 years.
An office bearer can have a maximum of three terms in all.
No office bearer shall have consecutive terms. There shall be a cooling-off period at the end of each term.
There should be a separate governing body for the IPL.
Players and BCCI officials should disclose their assets to the Board as a measure to ensure they do not bet.
In the interest of democratic representations of states, it proposed ‘One State – One Member – One Vote’. Also, no proxy voting of individuals should be permitted.
No BCCI office-bearer should be a minister or a government servant.
Noted RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who along with Anil Bairwal, National Convener of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) had taken up the matter with the Central Information Commission and the Supreme Court stated, ``Law Commission subsequent to Supreme Court order has recommended Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) to be under Right-To-Information (RTI) Act. Since Supreme Court judges and Law Commission members are in themselves best qualified persons to decide on legal issues, there is no reason that Central government may further defer accepting Law Commission recommendation that too after the Supreme Court verdict in name of making study of the report.’’ Now, it is the turn of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Law Minister to working instantly to bring in BCCI under the RTI Act.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.