With less than a week left before BCCI president Sourav Ganguly is set to enter the three-year cooling off period, the Supreme Court has listed the board’s long-pending case for a hearing on Wednesday. The court is meant to hear BCCI’s plea, which it has filed twice since last December, proposing several amendments to the board’s constitution which, if adopted, could undo some of the most significant reforms recommended by the Lodha Committee.
The hearing, which will be conducted virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be in front of a two-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justice L Nageshwar Rao. As per the notes on the court’s website, the bench will take up the BCCI matter only after other scheduled hearings of the regular court.
The hearing is hugely significant for the BCCI because on it rests the future of its two main office bearers – Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah. Both are part of the new administration that was elected last October under the BCCI’s new constitution framed on the basis of the Lodha Committee reforms, which were mandated by the court in 2016.
As per the BCCI constitution, an office bearer is allowed to serve for two consecutive terms spanning six years (at BCCI or state level or a combination of both) after which a cooling-off period of three years is mandatory. That rule was approved by the court itself in 2018, when it modified the clause concerning the cooling period to two terms (six years) instead of the just one (as stated in its 2016 order).
Both Ganguly and Shah were scheduled to finish six years this year, having started as office bearers at the Cricket Association of Bengal and Gujarat Cricket Association respectively.
While Ganguly’s term reportedly comes to end on July 27, Shah’s has been over in the past month or so although an exact date could not be confirmed. In its second plea filed in April, the BCCI asked the court to consider the amendments to the board’s constitution including tweaking the cooling-off period of the board’s office bearers, modifying the disqualification criteria, giving unprecedented powers to the BCCI secretary, and stopping the court from having any say if the board wants to alter the constitution. The amendments were unanimously approved by the state associations that comprise the BCCI general body.
The BCCI has said its two most powerful office bearers – the president and the secretary – should be allowed to serve two consecutive terms (six years) solely at the BCCI (without taking into account terms served at state level) before the cooling-off period kicks in.
In the absence of any directive from the court, the BCCI has said Shah, Ganguly and Jayesh George, its joint secretary, who, too, needs to serve the cooling-off period soon, can continue. Recently, a member of the BCCI’s Apex Council, Alka Rehani Bharadwaj, raised doubts about whether Shah could attend the July 17 meeting of the panel which is tasked with making policy and governance decisions. Bharadwaj, who represents the Comptroller & Auditor General of India [CAG], asked Ganguly and George to ensure only eligible members attended the Apex Council meetings.
In its April affidavit, the BCCI told the court that the three-year cooling-off period for an office-bearer following a six-year tenure is an eligibility criteria necessary only to contest the elections. The Apex Council was given the same reasoning to justify the presence of Shah at the July 17 meeting.
CAG request on relieving nominee on BCCI Apex Council
The court is also likely to hear the CAG’s request, too, tomorrow. Recently, the CAG filed a plea asking the court for its nominee on the Apex Council to be relieved on the grounds that it is “unable” to function as an independent voice and carry out its primary job: to provide financial oversight to the BCCI and the state associations.
The CAG nominee is the solitary independent voice in the nine-person Apex Council and the seven-strong IPL Governing Council. The inclusion of the CAG official was one of the most significant recommendations of the Lodha Committee. The objective, the Lodha Committee said, and the court agreed, was the CAG nominee would “ensure transparency and financial oversight” in the functioning of the BCCI.
Asked by ESPNcricinfo on Tuesday to comment on BCCI’s move to carry further tweaks to its constitution, Justice Lodha politely declined. Last November, immediately after the BCCI amendments were made public, he had said it was “unfortunate” that Ganguly had failed to understand the true worth of the reforms which was the only reason a cricketer had become the BCCI president.
“I thought a cricketer at the helm of affairs will understand that it was only our reforms which brought him to this position,” Justice Lodha told the Hindustan Times. “If the earlier system was in vogue, perhaps no cricketer could have ever dreamt of heading a body like the BCCI. The way the politics is played in cricket administration, I don’t think any cricketer would have been able to get this position but for these reforms.
“That’s all the more reason for those in charge now to respect the reforms and try to fully implement them, instead of changing them”, Lodha added. He hoped the changes do not happen. “Let reforms work over a period of time and see how transparency, accountability come into the administration.”