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The Kotla Is On Fire!

Delhi’s cricket, patronised by bigwigs, is mired in financial offences, other opacities

The Kotla Is On Fire!
Jitender Gupta
The Kotla Is On Fire!

Two days after Union finance minister Arun Jaitley—who also holds the I&B and Corporate Affairs portfolios—advised ngos like Greenpeace to be transparent and disclose their sources of funding, the Central Information Commission (CIC) indicted the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA) for not being transparent enough. The DDCA claimed it was not covered under the Right to Information and therefore had no obligation to furnish information about its functioning. The irony was not lost. Jaitley was the DDCA president for 14 years. He continues to be its chief patron.

The CIC held unanimously that the DDCA, although an autonomous body, fulfilled conditions for being declared a ‘public authority’ under the RTI, as it had been using government land for commercial purposes. But it refrained from passing an order outright, because two of its earlier orders holding the India International Centre and the Delhi Golf Club declaring them to be public authorities had been stayed by the Delhi High Court. Despite repeated efforts, Jaitley was not available for a comment.

Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla, owned by the DDA, is controlled by the DDCA, but the lease expired in 2002.

The 66-page CIC ruling questioned the propriety of allowing a commercial outfit to pay institutional rates as lease rent. The urban development ministry also failed to satisfy the commission of the basis on which institutional, commercial and residential rates were fixed in the national capital.

BJP MP and former Test cricketer Kirti Azad, who has spearheaded a campaign to expose ‘electoral and financial frauds’ in the DDCA (see interview), has been at the centre of a raging controversy in recent years. Azad’s persistence also led to an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Investigation Organisa­tion (SFIO) in the corporate affairs ministry, which lists 23 instances of misappropriation of funds, non-paym­ent of taxes, not following the tendering route, hiring of tainted auditors and irregularities concerning management of membership, ticketing and so on.

The SFIO report, a copy of which is in the possession of Outlook, shows that no effort was made to cover up the irregularities. The only possible explanation is that the DDCA was confident of political patronage and consequent immunity from investigation and prosecution. Of course, no further action was initiated on the damning report.

Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari

“When I met Jaitley, instead of hearing me out, he went on a tirade against Kirti Azad for protesting against the DDCA.”
Bishen Singh Bedi, Former cricketer, DDCA member

The DDCA is not a society, unlike other state cricket bodies, but a private limited company registered under Section 25 of the 1956 Companies Act—limited by guarantee and not having share capital. It has 4,600 members; 300 of them are corporate members.

The Centre appoints three nominees to the DDCA to keep vigil, and since 2011 they were Delhi Congressman Arvinder Singh Lovely, former Union minister Rajiv Shukla and Congress MP Navin Jindal. After regime change in 2014, the new members are BJP MP Pravesh Varma (his brother Siddhartha is a member), and former BJP MLAs R.P. Singh and Sunil Yadav. And fact is, no government nominee has ever protested against any mismanagement. “It’s a cosy club; political affiliations don’t matter,” says former cri­­­c­keter and DDCA member Bishen Singh Bedi.

The state of Ferozeshah Kotla stadium is an ideal case study that sheds light on the ‘management’ of the DDCA:

  • The stadium is in control of the DDCA although the lease expired in 2002, effectively making it an illegal occupant for the last 13 years. The owners, Delhi Development Authority, have decided to ignore the issue.
  • Despite having no legal rights, the DDCA has spent about Rs 500 crore on construction and renovation in Kotla, on an average of Rs 100 crore a year. It doesn’t have the completion certificate or a safety certificate for the stadium—an essential legal requirement for hosting thousands for matches.
  • As per the inspection report carried out by the technical section of the Union ministry of urban development in August 2013, unauthorised construction was rep­orted at 13 places in Kotla. DDCA president S.P. Bansal confirms, “The no objection or the clearance cer­tificates would come only after a certain prope­rty matter with the government is settled. It is settled now. We will get the cle­arance soon,” he says. It’s still not there.
  • A fact-finding audit report of Dece­m­­­ber 2014 gives many instances of money being paid for construction and maintenance works in cash, with no safeguards like tendering or inviting quotations. It found cash payments worth crores were paid without the approval of the executive committee. For example, Rs 50 lakh in cash was parked in the same firms, like M/S Sri Ram Tradecom, that were separately paid for the civil works carried out in Kotla. There are instances of duplication of bills; many companies were paid for the same job multiple times.
  • It was found that five firms hired for repair works—a work in progress that never really gets finished—were owned by the same set of people. “Same persons are dealing with different works,” observes a fact-finding committee report on Ferozeshah Kotla.
  • Three companies—Vidhan Infras­tructure Private Ltd, Sriram Tradecom Private Ltd and Maple Infra-reality Private Ltd—were paid Rs 1.55 crore, apparently as an advance execution of civil works. A similar amo­unt was transferred via RTGS to Rat­tan Industries, owned by Bansal, who admits to having a stake in it. “The company has been in the textile business for 50 years,” he says, but insists that “has nothing to do with the DDCA. The allegation of money transfer is all rumour. The DDCA’s accounts are maintained in a professional manner.”
  • The DDCA made cash payments in crores between 2008 and 2011 for expenses related to hosting IPL mat­ches, shown in the ledger as ‘IPL match expenses’. The SFIO probe reveals that these expenses were to be met by GMR, one of the sponsors, which (to be sure)paid the DDCA Rs 10 lakh a match. In addition, the DDCA got over Rs 26 crore for hosting IPL matches between 2008 and 2011 from the BCCI. ‘And as such DDCA has a sizeable surplus from IPL’, observes theSFIO report.
  • As per the SFIO report, the DDCA gets around Rs 30 crore every year—this year it’s Rs 36 crore—from the BCCI for the promotion of cricket in Delhi. The DDCA runs 110 cricket clubs that organise cricket tournaments, provide coaching, search and hone talent. But families of students and aspiring cricketers have to shell out Rs 2-3 lakh annually for every boy for coaching and for participating in matches organised by clubs under the DDCA.

Former Test cricketer Surinder Kha­nna, who runs a coaching academy in Delhi, is a disillusioned man. Most DDCA members, including the directors, have no knowledge of cricket, he rues, saying that greed for money is all-pervasive. He has seen things in his long years at coaching. “Here, 16-year-olds play in the under-14 category, 19-year-olds play under 16, and 23-year-olds play under 19. You can bend rules, everything can be bought if you have the money,” alleges Khanna, demanding an investigation. “There is no scope for players like Bishen Singh Bedi, Kapil Dev and other cricketing legends from humbler backgrounds in today’s DDCA,” says Khanna.

“Here 16-year-olds play in the under-14 category and so on. You can bend rules; everything can be bought with money.”
Surinder Khanna, Former cricketer

Bedi, along with Kirti Azad, has written about 200 letters to Jaitley, informing him about the rampant corruption, with demands of a probe. According to Bedi, even in the annual general meetings that don’t last more than a few minutes, Azad was offered the position of a national selector, but didn’t budge. “When I met Jaitley, instead of giving me an honest hearing, he went on a tirade against Kirti Azad, for making wild charges against an apparently lily-white DDCA management,” recalls Bedi. Azad made representations to the BCCI, which main­tained a stoic silence, much like Jaitley, who kept quiet on the IPL matching-fixing scandal.

IPL’s Chennai Super Kings was owned by a family member of former BCCI chief N. Srinivasan, who was forced to quit as board president by the Supreme Court which cited a flagrant conflict of interest in another case. Similarly, Arun Jaitley is the Union minister of Corporate Affairs that is investigating the alleged financial bungling in the DDCA that took place during his tenure as president. “Will an intervention from the apex court be required to resolve the conflict of interest in the investigation of financial bungling in DDCA?” asks Sameer Bahadur, secretary of the NCT Cricket Association.

The indefatigable Bedi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought an audience with him. “I believe in prime minister Modi when he says na khaunga, na khaane dunga (neither will I make money by corrupt means, nor will let others).” They are eagerly awaiting a response for months now.

By Mihir Srivastava in New Delhi

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