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Can BCCI Be Under RTI?
The cold fingers of accountability, loved best when others are subject to its minatory touch, are closing in on the Indian cricket board (BCCI). The shroud of secrecy that covers the operations of Indian cricket is being slowly pulled off, state unit by state unit, by the Right to Information (RTI) Act, with help from the courts. Officials of the Kerala Cricket Association have been designated “public servants” as defined under the Prevention of Corruption Act. And the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) has been brought under the ambit of the RTI Act.
The BCCI, which has resisted accountability for long—and invited ridicule when it said the Indian team was not an Indian team but a BCCI team—could now be made to bow to the reigning spirit of the day and age—the pursuit of transparency and accountability.
The Central Information Commission (CIC), which once ruled in the past that the BCCI is not covered by the RTI Act, is again going to adjudicate on the issue on October 4. The verdict could be different this time. Apart from the fact that transparency is the catchphrase of the day, this belief is based on the judgement given by the same CIC on the status of Delhi Public School, Rohini, Delhi.
In that decision, the CIC ruled that the school “fulfils the essential elements of being a private, aided school which is substantially financed by the government”. It added that “6,000 sq m of land has been given to the school at a concessional rate of Rs 65 lakh per acre and 10,000 sq m of land at a highly subsidised nominal ground rent of Rs 10 per annum by the DDA”.
The BCCI has prime land given to them at highly subsidised rates, enjoys huge tax exemption and earns crores in revenue.
At the October 4 hearing, arguments would revolve around one point—is the BCCI a “public authority”? The RTI Act lays down that all “public authorities” have to provide information to citizens. A “public authority”, as defined by section 2(h) of the Act, is an institution established under the Constitution; or by a law or notification by Parliament or a state legislature. This would also include any non-government organisation “substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government”. In the dps Rohini case, in addition to the aforementioned ruling, the CIC says the school is being controlled by different government agencies. About 16,000 sq metres of land given at a concession was deemed “substantial financing”.
The BCCI and its affiliates, of course, are sitting on a much larger landmass. No exact figures are available, but conservative estimates of the land provided to them at highly subsidised rates, often in prime locations, for stadiums and training facilities, would still run into thousands of crores. “There are over 30 associations of the BCCI, and several states have more than one ground,” says activist-lawyer Rahul Mehra, who has been following up on the issue, at the BCCI’s heels, for several years. “It could be a 15-acre piece of land like the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi, in the heart of the city...which would be worth Rs 700-1,000 crore. There would be larger or smaller pieces of land given at very low rates. I estimate that all of it would be worth at least Rs 30,000 crore, and that would be a conservative estimate.” The PCA stadium in Mohali was financed largely by public funding. The 13.56 acres of land in Sector 63 of Mohali that it stands on would be worth thousands of crores. But the PCA was provided the land at a lease of Rs 100 per acre per annum, for 99 years. For the construction of the stadium and the clubhouse, a total of Rs 11.07 crore was received in grants—Rs 10.15 crore from the Punjab Urban Development Authority, Rs 15 lakh from Punjab Sports Council and Rs 77 lakh from Punjab Small Savings.
Similarly, the land on which the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium stands has been granted to the Delhi and District Cricket Association on a perpetual lease for Rs 27,800 per acre per annum. The pattern holds all over India: for instance, the land for the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore is leased to the Karnataka State Cricket Association at Rs 1,000 per acre per annum.
“The BCCI does not want to be transparent to the public, due to whom they make money. How do you justify that?”
The BCCI has in the past always taken the stand that it itself doesn’t control or lease these vast tracts of lands, and that it is state associations which do it. This line of reasoning is clearly disingenuous, and was debunked by the Delhi High Court when it ruled in 2002 that “the plea of the BCCI that it does not own or lease the stadia is of no consequence as the stadia are owned and leased by its members and it is not disputed that all the international matches are played in such stadia”.
These are the more tangible aspects of the funding/subsidies provided by the state to the BCCI and its constituents—there are other aspects that would attract the attention of the CIC and the courts, like the security provided for all India matches, which is generally taken for granted as the duty of the state. “If they hire four or five security officers for five-six days, or for 20 days for just one ground during the IPL, the cost would run into lakhs,” says Mehra. “And here the state is providing 5,000 or 10,000 security personnel to man the entire stadium! Yet they claim to be a private body—if that’s so, pay for it! Even if you count only Mohali, the PCA owes Rs 12.5 crore to Punjab Police for the security provided in two years.”
Mehra also cites the various tax exemptions that the BCCI enjoys—income tax, entertainment tax, service tax, excise duty exemptions. “These exemptions would, again, run into tens of hundreds of crores,” he says. “For the last two years only, the BCCI has to pay an outstanding of Rs 400 crore in taxes, which they are now contesting.”
Worse, says Mehra, the BCCI doesn’t care for the key stakeholder, the fan. Most stadiums have very few facilities for fans, who are the source of revenues—the TV rights and sponsorship fees are so high only because of the public. “And you (BCCI) don’t want to be transparent to the Indian public, because of whom you’re making so much money?” Mehra asks. “How can you justify that?”
Three years ago, the State Information Commission of Punjab had ruled that the PCA was a public authority; the PCA duly challenged this in the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which ruled that financial assistance given to the PCA, including grant of land at concessional rates, is substantial enough for it to be a “public authority” as envisaged in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
“Is the BCCI substantially financed by the government? It should be given an opportunity to present its case.”
The BCCI’s case now could hang on whether the concessions given to it and its affiliates are ‘substantial’ or not. “Then, is a body substantially financed by the government? This should be judged judicially, that is the BCCI should be given an opportunity to present their case,” says Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. “So, even if they get subsidy or concessions, it has to be judged whether it is financing, and whether it is substantial.”
Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar, who ruled the PCA to be a public authority in May this year, had very clear and definite ideas about the description: funding that’s not small enough to be ignored. “Wherever public funds are provided, the word ‘substantially financed’ cannot possibly be interpreted in narrow and limited terms of mathematical calculation and percentage,” he noted. “Wherever public funds are provided, the word ‘substantial’ has to be construed in contradistinction to the word ‘trivial’ and where the funding is not trivial to be ignored as pittance, then to me, the same would amount to substantial funding coming from the public funds.”
Not only this, the Punjab State Information Commission also ruled in May that Fortis Hospital in Mohali was also to be subject to the RTI regime as the land provided for its construction was at concessional rates. “It has been ruled a public authority despite the fact that the hospital is a completely private organisation, and it doesn’t even perform any public function—which the BCCI does perform,” says Mehra, arguing that the reasons to designate the BCCI a public authority are much more compelling.
The BCCI president, N. Srinivasan, did not respond to Outlook’s requests for his comments, but a senior board official said: “We have been judged to be not covered by the RTI and we’re confident that that decision would stand.” This desire to remain unexamined isn’t peculiar to them. Gandhi says: “Naturally, they don’t want to be covered by the RTI. Everyone likes the RTI to apply to the other person, never to oneself.”
Mehra contends the BCCI has been given a monopoly by the state to develop the game in India—as the Indian Cricket League wasn’t allowed to break into it. He says the biggest thing is not even the money—it’s the honour of selecting a team to represent the country. It was on his petition that the Delhi High Court observed in 2004: “...an inexplicable argument was advanced on behalf of the BCCI that, in point of fact, the Indian team is not a national side in the sense of having the sanction of the government, but a side picked by the BCCI amongst Indian players.” Similarly inexplicable is the BCCI’s efforts to avoid transparency in its functioning. The winds of discontent blowing since the summer of Anna Hazare’s protests could swiftly dismantle their case.