N Srinivasan to Earth: Just Chill Out

1997. 2003. 2013. It's pretty simple, actually. Whenever the stench of corruption has threatened the BCCI, it has simply rigged an inquiry committee to give itself a 'clean chit'. Honestly.

“I do not know,” said N Srinivasan, the president-in-limbo of The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), “why you people are making a big issue of it.”

A Bombay High Court bench, responding to a petition filed by the Bihar Cricket Association, had called the BCCI-constituted panel of inquiry “illegal”, repudiated that panel’s report and asked that the entire inquiry be conducted afresh.

What’s the big deal here, Srinivasan asks. And you can understand his bewilderment – after all, the BCCI had in this instance merely drawn from a playbook that has served its ends successfully, and repeatedly, in the past.

Does anyone remember DV Subba Rao? Back in 2003, he was chairman of the Bar Council of India and was handpicked to probe the allegation that Abhijit Kale, an up and coming right hand batsman from Maharashtra, had offered bribes to two members of the national selection committee for a berth in the senior side.

In course of the inquiry, Subba Rao met only three people: Pranob Roy and Kiran More, the two national selectors who had made the allegation, and Kale himself. What is interesting, however, is the list of people Subba Rao did not meet.

He did not meet Kale’s mother, who the selectors alleged was the one who had made the approach and offered the bribe on her son’s behalf.

He did not meet former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele, who had during his tenure convened all meetings of the national selection committee and who in November 2003 said that bribery and corruption were rampant in cricket selection.

He did not meet former BCCI treasurer Kishore Rungta, nephew of former chairman of national selectors Kishen Rungta, who went on record to state that the integrity of the national selectors was “suspect”.

He did not meet former Hyderabad Ranji player Vanka Pratap, who accused a selector of demanding a bribe to include him in the state team.

He did not meet promising teenager Ritesh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh, who on camera accused a selector of demanding Rs 50,000 for a berth in the state's under-17 side.

Long story short, Subba Rao – a one-man panel ostensibly inquiring into corruption in the selection of cricketers at the national and state levels – did not meet a single person who could have shed light on the question.

Why not? “The terms of reference have been restricted, so the inquiry will be limited to only those three persons,” Subba Rao explained.

Does the sequence sound familiar: a hastily confected ‘committee of inquiry’ with very narrow terms of reference, restricted from meeting potential witnesses, producing a ‘clean chit’ at the end of the exercise?

The Past as Prelude

Egregious though the Subba Rao example is, it was not even the first time the BCCI had deployed this tactic to sweep inconvenient matters under its very capacious rug. Back in 1997, when Outlook magazine in a seminal cover story exposed rampant fixing in Indian and international cricket, the BCCI went immediately into denial.

When the uproar reached deafening proportions, the board appointed retired Supreme Court Chief Justice YV Chandrachud as a one-man committee of inquiry to probe the allegations.

The central allegation was that bookmakers, many of them controlled by Dawood Ibrahim and his gang, had bribed, coaxed and, on occasion coerced cricketers into manipulating their performance and fixing results. But during the course of sittings that lasted for several months, Chandrachud did not speak to a single bookie.

When he was asked about the omission, he said, “That is not part of my brief.”

While the one-man committee was conducting its inquiry, a sub-inspector attached to the Mumbai police force told Outlook magazine that he was witness to conversations between a bookie and some Indian players and officials while the team was in Sharjah. The officer said these conversations had been taped and that he was willing to produce them. Chandrachud refused to summon that official to depose, nor did he call for the tapes.

When he was asked why not, he said, “That is not part of my brief.”

While the committee was in session, a police official called Chandrachud from Kolkata, saying he had rock solid evidence of bribery and fixing. The official offered to come down and depose before the committee and to produce his evidence. Chandrachud turned down the offer.

“It is not in my brief.”

While the committee was in session, a police raid in Kolkata resulted in the arrest of a big-time bookie. The officer who led it said that in course of the raid the police party had unearthed files, computer records and other evidence indicating the prevalence of bribery and match fixing in Indian cricket. Chandrachud was asked if he would summon the officials of that raiding party to testify before him.

“That,” he explained, “is not part of the terms of reference of my committee.”

That, in essence, is the BCCI playbook. When the stench of corruption – in the selection of players, in the performance of those players, whatever – becomes too noisome to be conveniently ignored, it appoints a committee of inquiry. It then laces that committee into a straitjacket by defining the ‘terms of reference’ so narrowly that no evidence of probative value can be considered.

The result is inevitable: a 'clean chit' – to Indian cricket in 1997, to the national selectors in 2003, to Gurunath Meiyappan and, by extension, to N Srinivasan earlier this week.

Rewind – To the Present

On 28 May, 2013, the BCCI in a press statement announced that it had constituted a three-member panel to inquire into charges of betting and related acts of corruption in season six of the IPL. (A sting operation had revealed instances of corruption in the previous edition as well, but since there was no police case involved the BCCI managed to douse that fire by quickly 'taking action' against the outed players and pretending that it had thus cleansed the league of corruption.)

The IPL governing council (emphasis added) has appointed a three-member committee comprising former high court judges T Jayaram Chouta and R Balasubramanian and BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale,” the BCCI statement said.

There was only one problem with that statement – it was a lie. The IPL governing council had not met, and it certainly did not appoint the panel.

“The IPL governing council did not meet on May 28,” Jagdale, who as BCCI secretary would have been part of any such meeting, said on record. He further said that he had not signed on to be a member of the panel, refuting the board’s statement that he had signed.

Jagdale, and BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke, who both resigned from the board on moral grounds, went on record to state categorically that they did not know who had appointed the three-member panel. To put that in perspective, in the BCCI hierarchy the secretary is second only to the president, and the treasurer is third in importance.

So who did appoint the panel? Many asked the question; most vociferous of the questioners was former BCCI president, and current president of the Punjab Cricket Association, Inderjit Singh Bindra.

Bindra had flown down to Chennai for the meeting at the end of which the announcement of the probe panel was made. He blogged about that meeting under the telling headline ‘Emergency Meeting A Farce’. Here is the salient excerpt:

“After repeated requests to elicit the information, I was told not by the President but by another official that the panel was selected by the IPL Operations Committee comprising Sundar Raman (CEO, IPL); Peter Griffiths (IMG); Rahul Mascarenhas (Legal assistant, BCCI); and PR Raman [legal advisor to the BCCI and brother of PS Raman, vice president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and its legal advisor, also legal advisor to N Srinivasan]. I was told that Professor Ratnakar Shetty acted as convener for the panel.

“The appointment of the probe panel is void ab initio (invalid from the outset),” Bindra said, “because the committee had no power or authority under the BCCI regulations to appoint such a panel. The power of appointing a panel to take decisions regarding serious matters such as spot-fixing, match-fixing and violation of franchise contractual obligations is vested with the Working Committee/Special General Meeting of the BCCI.”

Bindra’s repudiation of the inquiry committee, made as early as June 3, has now been echoed by the Mumbai High Court – only, where Bindra called the committee unconstitutional, the court ruled that it was “illegal”.

The manner of its setting up was not the only thing wrong with the committee, however. Justice Chouta said on record, before the BCCI applied a gag on the committee members, that the panel had not been constituted in accordance with the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act – which meant in effect that the two-member panel had no right to summon witnesses and no right to call for evidence, and finally, that any report they submitted had no force in law.

“This is,” Justice Chouta said, “a private matter between the BCCI and the two IPL franchises. There is no mechanism or access for the media or public to provide evidence. The probe will depend on whatever evidence is presented by the BCCI, and no one else (emphasis added).”

In other words, the BCCI constituted a panel to inquire into its own wrongdoing; it then told the panel to consider only that evidence the BCCI itself had presented to it and nothing above and beyond.

Rush to Judgment

Consider the timeline: The panel is appointed on 28 May. On 21 June, BCCI general manager Ratnakar Shetty flew down to Bangalore to discuss the procedures of the inquiry with the two members of the committee. On 28 June, the committee presented its report, absolving everyone of everything.

In other words, it took the BCCI 23 days to discuss the procedures with its own committee; but it took only six days to ‘conduct the inquiry’ and write out the elaborate ‘clean chit’, the contents of which are not for public consumption.

The panel reportedly met with Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of N Srinivasan, and with Rajasthan Royals co-owner Raj Kundra (we do not know this for a fact; we only know that Ratnakar Shetty said the panel would hear from Meiyappan and Kundra).

It did not meet with any police officials involved in the investigation into, and arrest of, five cricketers and of Meiyappan himself; it did not consider any external evidence; it did not even consider the report submitted to the board by anti-corruption wing head Ravi Sawani.

What was the rush all about? Ratnakar Shetty inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when, a day after the ‘clean chit’ was produced and N Srinivasan’s reinstatement as president publicly mooted by the board’s hierarchy, said, “We do not have to wait for the police chargesheet (into the match-fixing allegations).”

Substitute “do not have to” with “cannot afford to” and you get the picture: the board needed to whitewash the issue before the police filed its chargesheet, because it sensed that the police report would be damning.

And so it has proved. The chargesheet names and indicts cricketers, bookies and others on an array of charges including fixing; and it excoriates the BCCI for fostering in the IPL an atmosphere conducive to corruption.

The board’s original game plan was to let things take their own time ('interim president' Jagmohan Dalmiya – himself an unconstitutional appointment – repeatedly said that there was no fixed end date for the inquiry committee to report), and trust to the shortness of public memory to let the issue die a natural death.

Once the CBI announced its date for filing of charges, however, everything had to be fast-tracked – and thus the committee completed its ‘inquiry’ and drafted and submitted its report a mere six days after it had been officially briefed about what it was supposed to be doing.

“Illegal,” the high court has ruled – and what has been the board’s reaction? Just this, from N Srinivasan no less: “I do not know why you people are making a big issue of it.”

Indeed, what is a little corruption, a soupçon of illegality, among friends?

Prem Panicker is managing editor, Yahoo India. Follow him at https://twitter.com/prempanicker

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