Former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai was known for presenting the famous coal allocation report in 2014 that created upheaval in political circles. But he probably became more famous and received more media attention as chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) that governed the BCCI for almost 33 months -- from January 2017 to October 2019, trying to implement the Lodha Committee-recommended reforms. His tenure ended with the October 23 BCCI election, the first in five years. In his first comprehensive interview after demitting CoA’s office, a relaxed-looking Rai spoke to Outlook at his south Delhi residence. Excerpts from the Exclusive Interview:
Have you been sleeping well since October 23, 2019, when the responsibility of BCCI CoA were over?
Believe me, I slept well during those times also. I have been very fond of cricket and being a cricket administrator was new to me, but I enjoyed it.
How would you describe your 33-month spent tenure – eventful, a learning curve, tumultuous, forgettable, or with any other adjective?
Certainly, a learning curve. I’ll tell you why. Number one, it was very satisfying because as far as we, the CoA, were concerned our mandate was very specific, to fulfil the Lodha reforms as mandated by the Supreme Court. So, whatever was the Lodha reforms package, as approved by the SC, we had to implement that; we had no flexibility in that. And, at the same time we had to ensure that all state associations, including the BCCI, accept that. I say learning curve because when I was asked to join, on January 30, 2017, I made a statement that my tenure would be like that of a night watchman because the roadmap before me was [to implement reforms] that, I thought, it would take six months. If not by October, then by December 2017, we would have been able to persuade all the units accept the package. What we didn’t realise was that the decision of the SC was of July 2016 and SC had itself tried to persuade the BCCI to accept that verdict, or the reforms package, and only when they found the BCCI to be intransigent they made the then president [Anurag Thakur] and secretary [Ajay Shirke] leave. They found that it was not going to be implemented and hence they appointed the CoA to implement it. We didn’t realise at that point in time that there were vested interests that were not interested in implementing the package. And hence it took much longer.
Was your style of administration in the BCCI the same as in the CAG?
It cannot be compared because the CAG is an executive job with a certain mandate and you are the sole implementing body of that mandate. In this case, the mandate was that of the SC and we had no flexibility. What the SC had ordained in some ways is exactly what we had to implement. That’s why I say it was different from the executive role that I had as CAG.
What were the gains or highlights of your tenure?
One very important factor was that we could introduce total transparency in administration and the decision-making process of the BCCI. We have had about 120 CoA meetings and all the minutes of all those meetings are up on the BCCI website. Number two, the process of decision-making is also on the website. Any questions asked, we were very open about discussion them, whoever was the interested party, or the media. Third, we made our administration very participative, in the sense that cricket administrative is no different from any other job that I have done. The uniqueness of an IAS officer is that he works at the district level, the state level, and the central level. So, he’s able to see administration at all levels, of all kinds. I have also been in the defence ministry. So, you see a very wide spectrum of administrative acumen. The only thing is that we were new to cricket administration, so we decided that we would talk to the stakeholders. We did that in two ways. Number one: we talked to all the players and I must say that the inputs from players were absolutely excellent, very revealing, and they were very cooperative. The other factor was the state units. We talked to them also and tried to understand their issues. Then, there was the uninterested parties like the media, who brought to us their understanding of various issues. And because you people know the history and geography of cricket better than us, and we could learn a lot from them. I say ‘participative’ because on the inputs that we received we gave it back to them [players and states]. For example, players’ remuneration and compensation. We were told that since 2011 nothing had been done in terms of revision [of remuneration], examination, or reorientation or whatever it was. And the players told us that they had never been consulted. We consulted them and then we put up a package. Then -- and that is the most satisfying part that we have been able to -- courtesy the SC order, a large number of former cricketers came into administration. It’s easy for cricket administrators to say ‘I’m experienced; I know everything’. But the person who plays, one of the XI on the ground, who knows where it pinches, should be given an opportunity to come into administration. The reason I said an IAS officer has a unique is because I functioned as BDO (Block Development Officer), as SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate), so I know what it means at the grassroots level. Now, when I sit as an executive of government of India and I formulate a policy I know how that policy will find implementation at the ground level. Whereas a cricket administrator not having played cricket at the national or Ranji level doesn’t feel the pinch. So, now the very fact that, courtesy the Lodha reforms package, two former players have come into the BCCI Apex Council, was a very constructive thing -- that we set up an Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA) and two distinguished players, Shantha Rangaswamy and Anshuman Gaekwad, are in the Apex Council. Also, a person like Mohammed Azharuddin is heading the Hyderabad Cricket Association and we have brought Rahul Dravid into cricket administration. Then, I think women’s cricket was somewhere on periphery when we took over and I was surprised to see their compensation package. It was very unfair to them, because our women’s team, I realised, was as good as any team in the world and it could compete with the best. So, we improved their package, their logistics, their clothing, and other things. And we were successful in hosting two IPL-type of events [in 2018 and 2019]. I was very saddened when I came to know that Uttarakhand, despite having been setup as a state about 19 years ago, wasn’t able to field a team in Ranji Trophy and wasn’t even a member of the BCCI, nor were the north east states. We helped Uttarakhand become a BCCI member and the seven NE states and [they now] have equal voting rights. Also, Chandigarh and Pondicherry became members, and gave Bihar its due place. My tenure has been satisfying for these reasons.
You said players’ contribution was ‘revealing’. What were these revealing things?
We had three meetings with the national [team] players. The first one was in April 2017, when Anil Kumble made a presentation on behalf of the players, about the terms that were available to them. Our second meeting was with Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Ravi Shastri and one more player. In the third meeting, Rohit Sharma was also present. We had classified players into ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ category [for annual contracts]. Players in the highest category were getting about Rs.1.5 crores. Dhoni and Virat were very frank and said not to look at their remuneration package because they got a lot of money from endorsements, and told us to look at the middle-level [‘B’ category] players. We made out four grades – ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’, and also ‘A+’. But I made the pyramid flat, because the difference between ‘A’ and ‘B’ was very marginal. We tried to make B category very large; so we had about 30 players in that. ‘A’ category had about five or seven and then ‘C’ category. If I remember correctly, for ‘A’, we fixed at Rs.8 crore, ‘B’ was Rs.7 crore. That was very revealing, when they told us that the middle-level players make a living only by virtue of playing cricket and not getting so many endorsements. It was a very positive contribution made by the senior players.
Did they also talk about the Ranji Trophy-level players, and wanted you to do something for them?
Yes, that was an important contribution, because Ranji players were getting Rs.10,000 per day. We made that amount Rs.35,000 per day and we increased the GRS (Gross Revenue obtained Sales) further. Earlier, the GRS would accrue to them about a year or two years later. What had happened was the BCCI used to pay to the state associations and they would take their own time to give it to the Ranji players. Now, we play directly to the players’ bank accounts. For Under-19 players we’ve not been able to do it. So, all this while even if a state association was non-compliant, their players were being paid directly.
Did your committee also consider the issue of women’s Test cricket, which is almost dead?
No, we didn’t get into Test cricket. Please, understand that it is an evolutionary process. We couldn’t start it on our own; a Test has to be played with some other country, unless that country is forthcoming and the ICC arranges those matches. You must also realise that the CoA had no representation in the ICC. BCCI acting secretary [Amitabh Choudhary] represented in the ICC Board. So, to that extent, what was being discussed at the ICC was not a product that the CoA wanted.
Do you mean that the CoA was not giving any guidance or instruction to the BCCI acting secretary and the BCCI CEO (Rahul Johri, who was part of the ICC Chief Executives’ Committee) for important ICC meetings?
The CEO was always taking our instructions and directions while going, and keeping us informed, but that was at a lower level. That had a roadmap and that goes up to the CEOs of various countries, but that level hasn’t been reached as yet. But what was happening in the higher committee we were not really aware of.
Is that not surprising because, after all, it is the BCCI that was being represented at the ICC?
Unfortunately, most unfortunately, it did not happen like that. If you recall, the acting secretary did not go [for a couple of meetings] and did not even inform us that he was not going. So, we had to discontinue this practice of sending the secretary for the ICC meetings.
And the party that lost out in the process was the BCCI.
Ultimately, it did. There was so much of talk that the CoA could not represent the BCCI interests in the ICC. But who was representing the BCCI? It was an office-bearer, not the CoA.
And when former CoA member Vikram Limaye attended one ICC meeting and he wanted to present his formula of ICC’s revenue sharing but could not do it. What were the reasons?
First, let me correct this myth that there was a drawdown of the formula that the ICC, and that the BCCI was a loser. It’s true that in 2014, a formula was devised and the basic criterion was the ‘Big Three’ [comprising the Indian, English, and Australian boards], and the remuneration, or the share of the ICC, of the ‘Big Three’ was going to be larger. But please understand that we took over in 2017. Not a single dollar, in pursuance of that formula, had flowed into the BCCI when we took over. Before we took over there was an elected committee, which had not succeeded in ensuring that the so-called $570 million, which was the share of the BCCI, accrues to us. When we took over, we were told that our share was going to be $293 million; that was the package that we received when we took over. There were two parts of the new formula that had emerged at the ICC -- governance package and financial package. The governance package was accepted by the elected body, from which we took over. It was a done and dusted deal. We could not reopen the package. There, India lost out hugely. There was nothing we could do about it. I asked questions of then acting secretary [Amitabh], the treasurer [Anirudh Chaudhry], and the acting president [CK Khanna]. They could not explain why that governance package was accepted as it was. Or, probably India could not, what I usually say, exercise its mandate, its right, its strength in the ICC governing Board to be able to get it. No.2 was the finance package, and Vikram worked on it for about five days and he prepared a formula which was a win-win formula for everybody, keeping the total earnings the same – how everybody would get more and be satisfied. But, unfortunately, we didn't get time to put it in the ICC because Vikram attended only one meeting of the ICC and for that too we had to request the Supreme Court to allow him to attend; otherwise, it were the elected office-bearers who were going there. But, again, all credit to Vikran and the way we could then negotiate with the ICC and we were successful in pushing this $293 million up to $405 million. So, today what the BCCI receives is 28.3 per cent of the total revenues of the ICC. Then come England and Australia in the range of 12 per cent. So, we still get the lion’s share, but what I want to make abundantly clear is that with all this talk of having lost out and the ‘Big Three’ formula, somebody should point out and tell us: How much have we received over that three-year period – 2014 to 2017 – as per that ‘Big Three’ formula? We haven’t received anything.
There was so much publicity of that the BCCI would get X amount. You are saying that not a single dollar has come to the BCCI?
Please check out how much you have received as per that share in two whole financial years [2014-15 and 2015-16], if not three. How much did you get out of that $570 million? In fact, I asked a question of the treasurer – he has been a treasurer for six years – where is that money?
What did he say?
Well, [he said that] it did not come. His logic was that immediately after Mr N. Srinivasan left [when the BCCI withdrew him ICC as chairman in November 2015], or whatever it must have been, there was a rollback of that scheme, and that he couldn’t be faulted of that scheme. And that rollback took place much before we took over.
Were the last few months of the CoA’s tenure more difficult than any other period of its 33-month tenure? I ask this because, as you said, some states were intransigent.
I think the last few months were much better. I’ll tell you why. I have been a consensus builder through my career, and the idea has been to take everybody along. And the CoA was very pro-active in this, and right in the beginning itself we said ‘let’s try and understand why the states are not willing to implement the SC package’. So, I held a meeting of the eastern and northern state associations, probably in September 2017, to try and understand that. I made it very clear to them to tell us about their major problems, so that we, empathising with you, try and present that to the SC. And the issues that came forward was one state-one vote. I also sincerely believe that it’s unfair to Gujarat and Maharashtra, especially Maharashtra, where 50-odd per cent of the times Mumbai has won the Ranji Trophy – you have to give them recognition for that. We emphasised with them on that. Number two, five national selectors versus three. Now, with NE states having joined the BCCI, about 2,008 matches are played per year in domestic tournaments [starting this season]. Three selectors just cannot be there. It’s a very practical problem. And the third thing we thought of was the cooling-off issue [for administrators]. They told us that it should be six years [on the trot, of the nine-year tenure]. A whole lot of other issues were there, but these three issues were reasonable. So we discussed them. I called a meeting of western and southern states in Mumbai. Unfortunately, that meeting didn't take off because some states felt that there was nothing they wanted to discuss with the CoA and that they would fight it out in the court. Unfortunately, we could not take that consensus building process further. We kept apprising the SC through our 11 Status Reports, but state associations filed 92 interlocutory applications before the SC. People have asked us: Why did you stay on for 33 months? Our hands were tied, that till those interlocutory applications were disposed off, we could not implement reforms. I say the latter part of our tenure was easier because the court appointed a new amicus curie [advocate PS Narasimha] because the earlier amicus [advocate Gopal Subramanium] had decided to leave for whatever reasons. The court also gave the new amicus the mandate to mediate with the state associations and then come up with a formula. The process of mediation was very constructive and I must say that 75 to 80 per cent of the states were very happy with whatever we did. There were some states who had their own vested interests and they didn't come forward. Hats off to the amicus who must have spent at least 200 hours, painstakingly sitting through the process, understanding the problems, looking at those in a constructive/positive way, and then trying to find solutions. And we agreed wholeheartedly with that. For example, the [constitution of the] Apex Council of nine members. We realised very soon that it was impractical because in the states, where the game is actually played you have various sub-committees. So, we agreed to a committee [Apex Council in states] of 19 members. There were other problems that the Amicus helped resolve. It was only when he put his report with the SC on May 1, 2018, did the court on August 9, 2018, gave the final order, saying ‘yes, that package is accepted’. On August 21, 2018, we registered the BCCI constitution, and laid out the roadmap for the elections [held on October 23, 2019].
But states like Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu, and Haryana still haven’t complied.
That is their choice.
...despite the new Amicus doing the mediation.
Yes, Mr Narasimha had a discussion with the three of them. It’s their choice and they decided not to implement. There the CoA had nothing to do. The CoA and the Amicus tried to persuade them, but they had their own misgivings about this SC verdict. Every other state wanted to hold elections, but it would have been unfair to hold back the elections process because three states hadn’t come forward; it would be unfair to the 32 states that had come forward. So, we moved forward with the election.
Retired Chief Justice RM Lodha had told me that his committee’s idea was that process of reforms started from the states because they were the BCCI electorate. But the CoA started it from the BCCI. Do you think, in hindsight, it would have been easier to implement reforms had the CoA started from the states?
No. It wouldn’t have been. I think the SC order was also not factored like that. The SC gave a constitution for the BCCI and said that the states should ‘mirror’ it; will be likewise. Till we don’t lay out the tangibles of the BCCI, what would the states know what they had to implement. So, we had no option and we got the BCCI constitution, which had been mediated by the Amicus, registered with the court and then tell the states that ‘look this is the constitution that the SC has given. You have to mirror it and you have one month to do this’. That’s why I had started consensus building in 2017 so that we could try and factor those into the constitution [original Lodha Committee’s constitution] that was given to us by the SC. That constitution [approved by the SC] was that of the BCCI, not of the states. So, there was no possibility, even with the benefit of hindsight, of starting from the states because what you would have told the states if that had happened. The states would have said: ‘BCCI, please lead the way’. BCCI had to lead the way, and it registered its constitution first, and then told the states to fall in line.
Before Mr Ravi Thodge joined the CoA in February 2019, the CoA was virtually split 50-50 [between Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji]. Did that disagreement slow down the process of implementation of reforms?
No, it did not. It’s incorrect to say that. We were two members, and both had different perspectives to the issues. And I think professional disagreement took place on two issues: one was the [sexual] allegations levelled against Mr Rahul Johri [BCCI CEO by an employee of the BCCI] and the other was about the appointment of coach for the Indian women’s team. I don’t think there were any major agreements that affected the game. As far implementation was concerned, by then the SC had come out with its final verdict. Implementation was speeded up only after the Amicus started his mediation process.
A lot of BCCI money is apparently stuck with the ICC. Ganguly at his first press conference after taking charge as president on October 23 put the figure at $372 million. Why has this issue not been resolved? Was it because of lack of proper BCCI representation at the ICC as there were issues with the BCCI representative attending ICC meetings?
I am not aware of this $372 million.
This is probably BCCI’s share of the ICC media rights etc.
We have recovered everything as per the formula of that formula of $405 million that I am talking about. But I don’t know how this figure of $372 million has come.
But you have recovered everything?
Part of the $405 million has come...[it comes] per annum.
How was the CoA’s relationship with the ICC? Did you indulge in back channel diplomacy etc. because the ICC president is an Indian, Mr Shahshank Manohar?
We had a very good relationship with Mr Manohar. We met in Mumbai and at other places where matches were played. Absolutely, excellent relationship. And I must say he is a very experienced administrator.
And in terms of the BCCI money being stuck.
I am not aware which money is stuck. Am not even aware of how that computation has come. Let’s hope and pray that, if that money is stuck, it will be recovered.
The long-standing issue of the BCCI National Cricket Academy has been resolved and it is to be shifted from the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore to a place near the Bangalore airport. How much was the progress till the time the CoA left?
It was much later after the CoA joined that a paper came us from the Karnataka government, saying that 25 acre of land has been allotted to the BCCI [for almost Rs.50 crore] and that the Board hasn’t taken any steps to utilise that land and taken its possession, for whatever reasons we really don’t know. We then discovered that payment for that land had been made about eight years back; a balance of about Rs.40-odd lakh remained. Then I consulted within the BCCI and I was told that we would require about 50 acres of land to set up a good academy. Then I requested the Chief Secretary of the Karnataka government that if additional land was available adjacent to that land [near the airport] it should be made available to us. He got back to us within seven days and said only 15 acres was available. We promptly accepted that, paid for it, and now 40 acres of land is available to us and we have fenced it off, taken its possession. We wanted to set-up the NCA and a project and that’s why we recruited a Project Director whose track record was that he had implemented 12 projects of construction of hospitals – Mr Tufan Ghosh. We thought his experience would be very good for us to build this academy. But when wanted to put out RFPs some of the BCCI office-bearers had some misgivings about it because it was a long term step and they thought that an elected body should be doing it. I respected that view and did not issue the RFP because we knew our tenure was short, and also we were not an elected body. But at the same time we didn't want cricket to suffer, so we appointed Mr Rahul Dravid as Head Coach for Cricket [NCA Director]. Then, he gave us a structure and now the NCA is fully functional. But we did not let the physical, construction project go forward because we thought rightfully it’s the mandate of an elected body to do.
The conflict of interest issue cropped again up in Dravid’s case when he was appointed NCA Director as he was apparently also a vice-president of India Cements, which owns IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings. Conflict of interest was raging issue all through the COA’s tenure. How was it handled and are you satisfied with the way it was handled?
We were satisfied with the way it is being handled. But, please understand, the SC verdict on conflict of interest is a very structured verdict; it is very straight-jacketed. And it was not for the CoA to take a decision on it; it is for the BCCI Ethics Officer to do that. He is a retired SC judge [DK Jain] and appointed by the SC itself, because a BCCI special general body meeting did not appoint him [despite CoA asking for the same]. So, we had no option but to go to the Ethics Officer to decide on conflict of interest issues. He took an absolutely correct, legalistic view of it because he was interpreting the SC verdict. It was us [CoA] who felt that it was a very straight-jacketed thing, and we went by two-three factors. Number one: a cricketer’s life span is very short – eight to 12 years, maybe – and after he leaves his cricketing life any country would obviously like to utilise his services as coach or administrator. I’ll give the example of Ricky Ponting. He becomes a coach of IPL franchise Delhi Capitals but when Sourav Ganguly becomes that team’s Advisor, we have a conflict problem. Ponting gets all the details about Indian cricketers and with that data bank – strong and weak points of Indian cricketers etc -- he goes back to his country and starts coaching a team whereas we can’t make that facility available to our former cricketers. So, in our 11th Status Report to SC we have suggested to the SC that the conflict of interest norms need to be structured in a particular fashion because of two-three reasons. One, our former cricketers must benefit as against foreigners; then, we should utilise their experience for our cricketing activity; and third was about commentary. If he is doing commentary on some vernacular channel and he is not a registered BCCI commentator why should that impact him. We felt it was unfair to the former cricketer and unfair to the BCCI. That’s why we have suggested to the SC flexibility to that norm, not dilution.
I know you are teaching in Singapore and the USA. Now, how are you going to utilise the time that you would get after the BCCI duties?
BCCI was never a full time job. Of course, we had a large number of meetings. At the same time we were on the internet and on the phone. Much has been made about the issue that we got into the BCCI administration whereas our job was to implement the reforms. That’s incorrect. If you read the January 30, 2017, order, it says that the CoA will ‘administer and manage the activity of the BCCI through the CEO, and the office-bearers will function under their supervision’. It also said that CoA would take steps to ‘implement the constitution as directed by the SC’. So, we had no option but to run the administration through the Chief Financial Officer [Santosh Rangnekar] and the CEO, both of whom were again inherited. We didn't appoint them; they were appointed by an elected body before we came.
I will continue with my Singapore University association and whatever little I do with the Harvard Kennedy School [USA], of which I am an alumni, and I am on the global trustee board of the International Financial Reporting Standards of London. I have an association with them and I work with them. I have written three books. These are intellectually stimulating activities.
Any chance of a book on the BCCI?
(Laughs) No, not as yet. I have not thought in that direction.