By his own admission, Justice R.M. Lodha, a former chief justice of India, wasn’t much of a cricketer after school. As a judge, he played just two matches—and fielding a ball in one, he broke his thumb. For all that, he is happy with his recent innings heading a committee that looked at the functioning of the tainted Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and has recommended radical reforms. Some of the committee’s recommendations have hurt egos in the power circles that have been running the board and dealt it a body blow. In an interview with Ushinor Majumdar, Justice Lodha explains why cricketing fiefdoms must be demolished and why betting must be legalised though that might seem unpalatable to conservative Indian society.
How troubling was it for you when you first learnt about corruption in cricket?
The first probe was by the Justice Chandrachud commission, set off by Outlook’s expose of match-fixing in the late 1990s. We did not know about much of what was going on at the time and it was painful to read about it. Over the years, the numbers may have declined but stray incidents happen. Match-fixing is not so prevalent, but betting is frequent.
Why do you think so many government servants, ministers and politicians stick around cricket administration?
The power and glamour attracts them. N.K.P. Salve, a member of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, wanted to be part of the BCCI: it had no money then, but he wanted to be part of it because of his passion for the game. The prime minister pulled Salve up because he was spending more time in cricket administration than in his ministerial duties. He replied that he was ready to give up his cabinet post for his passion. But nowadays, government service and constitutional posts require full-time commitment. So where’s the time for cricket administration? They (people in such posts) are free to help the game without being in its administration.
How rampant are corruption and conflict of interest in cricketing bodies?
The BCCI grants about Rs 20-30 crore each year to state cricketing bodies. Nobody knows how that is spent, and it’s used to garner voting power. There is no oversight by the BCCI and it accepts without scrutiny whatever balance sheet these state associations submit. The BCCI does not examine the books to see if the money has been spent on infrastructure or the purpose it was given for.
Is that why you suggested RTI coverage for the BCCI and state associations?
“Illegal cricket betting gives power to the underworld. Legally, betting can be done under guidelines. We have to evolve with the times.”
On such practices, we have made other recommendations. (But) the RTI suggestion comes because of two other reasons: first, the SC has said that the BCCI discharges public functions; second, it also approved (of the idea) that, with the tacit approval of the Union and the states, the BCCI has a monopoly over cricket. It may not be covered under the RTI Act right now, but people have the right to know what its functions and activities are. Therefore, the legislature must consider bringing the BCCI under RTI. We’ve also provided a mechanism for BCCI to provide information to the public.
What kind of corruption and cronyism did you find in cricket associations?
State associations have several clubs as voting members. Club teams are owned by administrators in state associations and they pass money to the clubs. Setting up a stadium costs Rs 250-300 crore, but in some states, they leave the project incomplete. The BCCI doesn’t care to find out about these things even after pumping in a lot of money. The constitutions of many state associations—as in Haryana and Saurashtra—are such that some families control them generation after generation, leading to nepotism. Presidents give themselves terms—even office spaces—for life.
What was the toughest work that your committee had to do?
The hardest task was to come up with a proper structure. Voting rights were inequitable. Some states had a higher number of votes than others. Maharashtra, for instance, has three. The administration tilted in their favour and it created a space for manoeuvering. All national bodies in which states are represented must be (founded on) equitable rights of partnership. Australia had the same problem. They had six states with 14 votes for 100 years till a committee was constituted. They can have multiple teams, but voting rights must be one per state. Changing this means altering existing members’ rights, but someone has to make the sacrifice.
How does illegal betting operate?
They work from within and outside the country. There are two levels: the lower level operates through a professional network, maintaining proper registers and using operations; the bigger fish don’t maintain records and take a large cut out of the operations. People who bet pay cash and receive a chit that is honoured if the person wins. School students are lured, get addicted and start stealing money to bet on cricket. Some commit suicide, some are also murdered.
How did you arrive at the suggestion that betting must be legalised?
“The glamour and noise in IPL make the cricketing part secondary. Its operations are neither professional nor methodical.”
Illegal betting gives money and power to the underworld. It can legally be done though betting houses with proper guidelines and licensing systems. Players, match officials, team officials and administrators should not be allowed to participate. There are moral issues involved, but you have to evolve with the times. It is better to legitimise betting than to allow it to continue illegally. Most people we spoke with were in favour of it. The problem is whether a foolproof licensing system can be enforced and betting monitored. There may be some issues for law and order agencies, but these can be worked out while framing laws.
Isn’t it strange that Indian players have no associations representing them?
Some top players who have represented the country found they were not allowed membership of cricketing bodies. Without compromising on professional management and without unionisation, players should be able to form associations so that they have a participatory role in administration and their voice can be heard.
What about the way the Indian Premier League (IPL) is being run?
It is unsatisfactory. The glamour and noise make the cricketing part secondary. The operations are neither professional nor methodical and the BCCI chief holds the financial control. So we suggested limited autonomy for the IPL governing council.
What problems did you find in state bodies? What about those that have become not-for-profit companies?
Different state bodies have different issues. In some, some people hold many proxies for others. Karnataka has more than 5,000 individual members and more than a hundred clubs. We have asked for a uniform structure for the associations, which BCCI has to enforce despite the autonomy of the state bodies. If they don’t follow BCCI’s directive, it can deny grants to the state bodies.
How important is it for the BCCI to take up these reforms?
The reason we recommended separate bodies for governance and management in the BCCI is because India is now a key player in international cricket. Its money has made it a big voice in cricket and other countries look up to India to see how it administers cricket. If the administration is professional here, then India can suggest—with moral authority—how other countries can improve conditions in their organisations.
Were you a cricket player yourself?
Not much really beyond school, but after becoming a judge, we played two matches: between an all-India judges’ team and an all-India lawyers’ team. In one match in Allahabad, the judges’ team was led by former SC judge Arijit Pasayat; Justice Markandey Katju and I were playing. Fortunately, we won that time and I remember scoring the last winning runs—either three or four. The other match was in 2009. Additional solicitor general L. Nageshwar Rao—a former Ranji player—hit the ball towards me and I broke my thumb trying to stop it.
Did you follow cricket as a spectator?
In 1972, I remember watching the India vs England match. Pataudi was the Indian captain and Tony Lewis led England. Salim Durrani hit sixes to the exact section of the stands from which spectators had called out for a six.