MUMBAI, Maharashtra—The Maharashtra State Information Commission has asked the joint director, sports and youth services, Mumbai division, to submit a copy of the lease deed between the state government and the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). It hopes to use the document, which must be submitted by Jan 6 2020, to decide if the MCA fits the definition of a “public authority” under the Right to Information Act and can, therefore, be covered by the transparency law.
The order was handed down by Maharashtra’s chief information commissioner Sumit Mullick, who was acting on an RTI application, on November 7. But it was signed only on November 20.
Under the RTI Act, “public authorities” are under a legal obligation to disclose information about their functioning to the public. The 2005 law defines a public authority as “any body or institution created by the Constitution of India, by the laws of Parliament and state legislatures, or by a government order or notification”. It includes “any body owned, controlled or substantially financed, or any non-government organisation substantially financed by the appropriate government”.
The MCA is the governing body for cricket in Mumbai and in neighbouring Greater Mumbai and Thane districts. It is affiliated to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the game’s national governing body. The BCCI is headquartered at the MCA-operated Wankhede Stadium.
The development in Mumbai mirrors a similar process involving the BCCI, which had resulted in the Chief Information Commission announcing in October 2018 that the board came under the purview of the RTI Act and was answerable to the public. However, a month later, the Madras High Court stayed that order.
“The matter is still pending [in court],” said lawyer Reepak Kansal, who represented RTI applicant Geeta Rani at the Chief Information Commission. Rani had sought to know the provisions and guidelines under which the BCCI represented India and selected players for the national team.
Shrugging off the charge that it enjoys prime land at highly subsidised rates and tax exemptions, the BCCI has all along maintained that it is not a government body but a financially-autonomous private body and, hence, does not come under the RTI Act.
The MCA’s response has been along the same lines. In a letter to the state information commission, it stated that the RTI Act does not apply to it.
“I do not want to comment on this.” MCA chief executive officer CS Naik’s said when HuffPost India sought comment on the commission’s latest directive.
Rich and powerful
The MCA, previously the Bombay Cricket Association, was established in 1930. It has dominated the Ranji Trophy, a domestic championship conducted by the BCCI since 1934 and played by teams representing the various state and regional cricket associations. The Mumbai team has won the trophy 41 times, including a record 15 years in a row between 1958 and 1973.
Another testament to the MCA’s power is the fact that several influential Maharashtra politicians have served as its president. They include the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi and the late Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh—all of them former chief ministers of Maharashtra—and the BJP’s former Mumbai unit president Ashish Shelar. The post is currently held by businessman Vijay Patil.
The MCA is not just powerful, it is also cash-rich. As per its annual report of 2016 —the latest available on the MCA website—the association had assets of close to Rs 300 crore. It made Rs 7 crore from organising Twenty-20 matches and one-day internationals, besides other earnings. It had Rs 4 crore in surplus income after expenses to the tune of Rs 66 crore.
Additionally, it receives grants from the BCCI, which are given uniformly to all cricket associations.
The MCA conducts cricket tournaments and league matches for both women and men in various age groups. It also gives scholarships and financial aid to associate clubs and gymkhanas to improve their facilities.
On the flip side, the MCA has been criticised for not paying its dues. In May, the Mumbai Police said they were yet to receive Rs 21.34 crore in dues for security arrangements for seven Indian Premier League seasons. This included Rs 5.61 crore in interest, the police said in a reply to an RTI query.
Anil Galgali, whose RTI application led to the disclosure, told HuffPost India, “I will be asking the government if they have finally recovered the dues.”
The MCA has also faced flak in the past for allegedly shutting children out of a public playground. Six years ago, activist Anjali Damania had raised objections to the MCA being given an open space in the Kandivali neighbourhood to build a sports club. Then a leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, Damania had alleged the space was used by children as a playing area. She had even urged cricketer Sachin Tendulkar not to allow his name to be associated with the club, as the MCA reportedly planned to do.
“After a parcel of land was given to MCA, I had sought information on the terms under which land was given and entry for common citizens restricted,” Damania said. “Ultimately I had to go to court, which ordered that it should be opened to public.”
She added that she was currently out of Mumbai but would follow up on the matter later.
A series of hearings
The MCA’s latest headache—the order seeking a copy of its lease deed—follows an RTI application filed by Imran Shaikh, a resident of Kurla in East Mumbai, on June 2, 2017.
In his application to the association, Shaikh sought the details of certain clubs attached to the Anjuman-I-Islam High School at CST and registered with the MCA. He wanted to know who their members were, the designations of these members in the clubs, the number of passes for IPL, T-20 and one-day matches the clubs received, and the criteria to be a club member. “I wanted to know how many club and tournament passes the clubs get and how they are utilised,” he said.
When Shaikh received no answer, he filed a first appeal—a tool available to RTI applicants who do not get a response within a stipulated time frame—with the MCA on July 20, 2017. There was still no answer. Shaikh then filed a second appeal, this time with the state information commission, on September 11, 2017.
Almost two years later and in the space of three months—between April 9, 2019, and July 11, 2019—the commission announced dates for four hearings so that the MCA could respond to the query. But the cricket body failed to appear at these hearings. However, on July 20, Naik wrote to the commission, stating simply that the MCA does not come under the RTI Act.
Shagaf Nakid, a spokesperson for the Anjuman-I-Islam—which calls itself a “premier educational conglomerate”—said, “The school does not have clubs. It is the Anjuman-I-Islam Association that has [clubs] and it is not covered under RTI.”
Now, both the joint director, sports and youth services, and MCA officials have been directed to present themselves at the commission’s January 16 hearing with a copy of the lease deed.
For greater transparency
There have been many attempts by RTI activists to bring powerful sports associations under the purview of the RTI Act. In the case of the BCCI, citizens have been taking the RTI route to seek transparency in the cricket board since 2010, according to reports in the public domain.
One such individual is Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal. “In my case, they got a stay for the proceedings itself on BCCI,” he told HuffPost India. “BCCI and other associations need to be [brought] under the transparency Act. Only then can one know who exactly is the beneficiary? They get large amount of subsidies, particularly land. Are they giving freebies in terms of concessions and fees to their own people?”
He went on to explain, “In [the] case of hockey association, a very junior lawyer was being given Rs 3 crore as fees. One has to know if the money and benefits are going to their own people or otherwise.”
However, former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi pointed out that efforts to bring an association under the RTI Act only count if the association fits the bill of a public authority. “Just because it is an association, it cannot be called a public authority. It has to fit the definition of a ‘public authority’ given under the RTI Act,” he said. “I may want many bodies to be public authorities but if it does not fulfil the criteria laid down under the Act for a public authority, then it is not. If government officers control it or if it is substantially financed, then it will have to be [a] public authority.”
Gandhi added, “In one case I had taken up, there was money put in by a business body but the land cost was too big for the special purpose vehicle to not be a public authority.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.