Saturday, July 4, 2015

A rotten state of affairs

Pankaj Sharma

29 June 2015, New Delhi 

It’s high time we demanded greater scrutiny of the BCCI and its minions.

At a press conference in Indore on 18 May 2013, I was asked a few questions about Indian Premier League (IPL) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Back then, I was the National Secretary of the Indian National Congress. In response to these questions, I had said that the party had vehemently sought for both the IPL and BCCI to come under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. I also said that the activities of both organisations must to be scrutinised, since they have given our nation a bad name. The news was flashed prominently by the national media and international agencies alike. 

 In the coming days, my ‘well-wishers’ advised me not to get involved with such demands, since I still have a long way to go in politics. In spite of having spent more than two and a half decades in mainstream journalism, many around me felt I did not command the requisite political nous to speak on such sensitive issues. ‘Friends’ across  party lines warned me that the path I was taking could lead to political foeticide. IPL bosses started making formal statements against any steps covering the most popular sports activity under the RTI. I was made to realise that one must think twice before making such statements, even in response to media queries. I was told to remember this if I wanted a play a long innings in politics.

A young leader from my party, who held a senior ministerial position, had also made a statement on similar lines. IPL and BCCI bigwigs rejected all the arguments given by this young leader by issuing statements and through their sponsored interviews to media. The Congress-led UPA government had begun a serious exercise to put IPL and BCCI under the ambit of the RTI Act. I clearly remember  the then union government’s then Sports Secretary PK Deb issued a formal statement, saying that the Board (BCCI) will not be exempted from the RTI Act.

Few months later a committee to probe IPL matters was formed. The Supreme Court assigned Mukul Mudgal, a retired judge of Punjab & Haryana High Court, to investigate allegations of illegal betting in the IPL. The Justice Mudgal Committee was also joined by the former captain of Indian cricket team, Saurav Ganguly.  In February 2014, the Mudgal Committee presented a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court containing names of 13 individuals who needed to be probed further. The panel’s preliminary report had concluded that there are people who could be guilty of illegal betting on IPL games. 

In May 2014, following the panel’s initial report into IPL corruption, the Supreme Court gave the Mudgal committee greater powers to investigate the contents of the sealed envelope that it had provided India’s apex court. The committee was assisted by former senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer BB Mishra, and it was given greater investigative powers for search and seizure of relevant documents and the recording of evidence, though not the power to arrest. Mishra and the panel were provided with assistance from one senior police officer each from Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi, and it was the first two months of their investigation led to the panel submitting its interim report by the end of August. The Mudgal panel submitted its final report in a sealed cover to Supreme Court in the first week of November 2014.

I have no access to the details of this report, but I know of Mukul Mudgal as a well-meaning person who is very meticulous. My first encounter with him was in the third week of July 2011 in Mumbai, when I was chairing a committee constituted by the Central Board of Film Certification to decide the fate of Prakash Jha’s film ‘Aarakshan’. P.L. Punia, the chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, has gone all out against the censor board for refusing to screen the film for him before its release. The board turned down his ‘orders’. Punia, who suspects the film has anti-Dalit lines, issued summons to then censor board chairperson Leela Samson to appear before the commission and threatened to get her arrested for violating the constitution by clearing an “anti-Dalit film”. 

I was a member of the Board  and a committee was formed to watch the film. The committee had five Dalits drawn from regional boards. Mukul Mudgal, who has several radical verdicts on caste issues to his credit as High Court justice and is considered an authority on the subject, was also invited to give his expert opinion. I found him verystraight forward and positive. The film was given U/A certificate without a single cut. We, at CBFC, had suggested amendments to the Cinematography Act, 1952 and I got a few other opportunities to interact with Justice Mudgal when he was heading the panel constituted by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for the purpose of framing a model bill. Yet again, I found Mudgal to be very business-like and professional in his approach. I do not know if he has given any recommendation to put IPL and BCCI under the RTI Act or not, but I am sure, he must have been given such observations that can change the face of Indian cricket.

India’s External Affairs minister and Chief Minister of Rajasthan are facing the heat and a fugitive sitting in his luxurious apartment in London like a Bond villain is flogging everybody by asking pointed questions about the use of private jets by certain individuals and telling the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to make public the passenger manifest of last ten years. He is trying to spread malicious rumours about people occupying high places by linking them to money launderers.  Is this not the time when policymakers think seriously and ban the activities of nudists’ clubs called IPL and BCCI? 

More than putting them under the ambit of RTI Act a highly empowered commission to enquire everything related to cricket and other sports is the demand of time. I might not be entitled to make this demand. But I have every right to demand this.

(Author is Editor and CEO of News Views India)

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