What to expect from Thursday’s Supreme Court hearing

India

Another Thursday. Another Supreme Court hearing to hear the longstanding case related to the BCCI. On January 17, the two- judge bench comprising Justices SA Bobde and AM Sapre, deferred the hearing after the amicus curiae in the case, Gopal Subramanium, opted to step down. The court appointed senior advocate PS Narasimha as his replacement.

The most important point on the agenda is the status report submitted last October by the Committee of Administrators (CoA) asking the court to bar the voting rights of non-compliant states and finalise a timeline for the BCCI to conduct elections. Here’s a guide to what is expected at the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 3 pm.

Why is this hearing significant?

This hearing has the potential to end the situation in which the BCCI has not carried out in full the Supreme Court’s orders on reforms. On July 18, 2016, the court approved the reforms recommended by the RM Lodha Committee and directed that they be implemented by all state associations; it subsequently amended certain reforms at the request of several state associations. To date, though, not a single member association of the BCCI, nor the parent body itself, has implemented the recommendations in toto.

The CoA has now recommended that the BCCI conduct elections within 90 days from the court’s ruling and has requested, in its status report, that the court approve a timeline for elections.

Why has the BCCI failed to hold elections?

To conduct the elections, the states and the BCCI first need to comply with the new constitution, which was registered last August. That means they have to agree unconditionally to all reforms. Not one of the 34 state associations of the BCCI was fully compliant when the CoA submitted its status report on October 27. The CoA identified seven states as being “non-compliant”, while the rest fell under the “partially compliant” and “substantially compliant” categories.

ALSO READ: CoA asks Supreme Court to suspend voting rights of non-compliant states

What are the contentious reforms?

Although the state associations have set the ball rolling, many have dragged their feet on key reforms such as the cooling-off period, disqualification criteria, and selection panels. The most significant reform that BCCI members want the court to re-examine is the nine-year tenure limit set for office bearers in the new constitution. The members have suggested that, as per the original order of the court in 2016, the office bearers’ tenure at the BCCI and state associations was distinct, giving office-bearers a potential cumulative life of 18 years. However, under the new constitution, that limit has been reset to a cumulative nine years – whether at state level or at the BCCI or both.

What can the court do to enforce its order?

Follow the CoA’s recommendation of barring errant state associations from their voting rights in the BCCI elections and also withhold their funding.

Anything else the BCCI members want to pursue?

Several BCCI members want the CoA’s reign to be brought to an end. But that will only happen if they conduct elections. Nonetheless, the members want to make the court aware of the deep divisions and mistrust within the two-member CoA comprising Vinod Rai, the former Comptroller & Auditor General of India, and Diana Edulji, the former India women captain.

The issues that have split the CoA
The Rahul Johri sexual-harrassment allegations
The hiring of the India women coach
The Hardik Pandya-KL Rahul chat show controversy

How does the divide in the CoA really matter?

It matters because the CoA’s squabbles have now spilled over to the cricket arena. Take the controversial TV-show comments of Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul: Rai and Edulji agreed the players ought to be penalised, but differed strongly on how to go about it. The BCCI’s legal team recommended that the players be suspended pending an inquiry with the Ombudsman being the final adjudicator. Both Rai and Edulji wanted the court to give directions on the appointment of an Ombudsman, a position the BCCI has not filled since late 2016. Finally, at the behest of Narasimha, both CoA members agreed to lift the suspension on the players.

Their differences are now reflected in the fact that Edulji attended the January 17 hearing with her personal lawyer – Amit Sibal, the son of senior politician and prominent lawyer Kapil Sibal, who himself is representing one of the state associations. Although Edulji has not made any public statement it is understood that she wants to safeguard herself and hence wanted a lawyer.

That’s it, then?

Keeping in mind the differences between Rai and Edulji the court could consider adding new members – at least two – to the CoA which would allow it to reach a consensus.

And, finally, who is conducting the hearing?

At least three chief justices have presided over the case stretching back five years. On Thursday the bench will comprise Justices SA Bobde and AM Sapre.

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