The Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Ajay Maken and his team of officials appear to have read the pulse of the sports fraternity and the people at large right in proposing the tabling of the National Sports Development Bill in Parliament but faltered significantly in gauging the mood of law makers, falling at the first step by being unable to impress the Union Cabinet.
At the root of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s stance is its contention is that it is a private, charitable, autonomous and non-statutory body and does qualify to be a ‘public authority’ as defined under section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act (RTI) is bound to be debated in the legislative circles but also in Courts of Law. It has relied upon a majority judgment of the Supreme Court in 2005 that BCCI is not a State under Article 12 of the Constitution of India. Besides, BCCI points out that it has not sought recognition by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports as the National Sports Federation governing cricket in India.
It is not as if BCCI can be treated differently to other National Sports Federations just because it has not sought recognition from the Ministry as such. Come to think of it, there cannot be anything wrong with the Board submitting itself to scrutiny, especially since it has ridden the crest of a cricket crazy public in this country. And, as Mr Maken points out, there have been any number of indirect ways in which BCCI and its affiliates have drawn benefits from Government agencies – be it in the form of tax exemption or securing land for construction of stadia.
It has also been argued that since it is the best administered sports unit in the country, it need not come under RTI purview. Suffice to say, it must be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Do not the best submit themselves to scrutiny? If indeed all is above board in BCCI, it should be embracing RTI on its own rather than be forced by legislation. Perhaps, Mr Maken erred in first cosying up with BCCI in his first few weeks in Shastri Bhavan. He had said it was up to BCCI to have clarity of its own on whether or not it is under the Government or considers itself independent. “BCCI has been a very generous donor to our National Sports Development Fund. In fact, the fund stands at a mere Rs 70.8 crore, with BCCI’s contribution alone being Rs 50 crore,” he said, explaining why he would be lenient when it came to BCCI.
Since Minister for Agriculture Mr Sharad Pawar, who is also International Cricket Council President, was among those who was riled at the idea of the Draft Bill coming up for discussion in the Cabinet, it has been wrongly interpreted as the Board of Control for Cricket in India having succeeded in preventing the Bill from reaching Parliament.
Indeed, it is not just the Board of Control of Cricket in India that had issues with the Bill. The Indian Olympic Association and a host of National Sports Federations kept talking about how it was draconian and even invoked the International Olympic Committee to threaten India with exclusion from the Olympic family if there was excessive Government interference in sports administration.
If it is true that Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Cabinet that Parliament would not pass the National Sports Development Bill in its present form and that other ministers like Mr Kapil Sibal and Mr Kamal Nath also spoke against the introduction of the Bill in Parliament, it is reflection of the fact that it was not just BCCI that was working against Mr Maken’s determined bid to “reform” sports administration.
The perceptive understood that the National Sports Development Bill was actually the National Sports Federations Regulation Bill in poor disguise. Despite its title, it had little focus on Development of Sports in India and it also assumed that sportspersons are a panacea to the problems facing Indian sport. Ideally, you would expect a Sports Development Bill to lay down a roadmap to make, at one level, Indian athletes very competitive and, at a broader level, make ours a sports-conscious nation by encouraging more and more of our youth participate in a wide variety of recreational and competitive sport. It had no provisions to encompass all corruption in sport, including match-fixing.
Yet, there were many good elements in the proposed Bill. For example, it sought to give legislative backing for the bid to make all National Sports Federations comply with anti-doping regulations in keeping with the WADA Code. It also proposed measures to prevent sexual harassment of women following the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. Besides, it sought to prevent age fraud in sports and create the office of a National Sports Ombudsman for effective and speedy resolution of sport-related disputes, including redressal of athletes’ grievances, through conciliation and mediation process.
Sadly though, Mr Maken and his team of officials did not heed the warning signs, believing that the Cabinet first and Parliament later would go with the popular sentiment against sports officials who are all perceived as being power hungry and with no interest in developing their sport. Not only did the Indian Olympic Committee and a number of National Sports Federations, including the Board of Control for Cricket in India oppose some aspects of the Bill, a survey conducted in May-June by FICCI concluded, among other things, that the Bill was not comprehensive enough to deal with the overall development of sport in India but focused only on regulating the National Sports Federations.
The Ministry now has to take the Draft Bill back to the drawing board and ensure that it comes up with a more comprehensive effort that encompasses all aspects of Sports Development in India. Given that the popular sentiment has been against sports officials in the past few months, it believed that the Cabinet would approve the Bill for being tabled in Parliament. However, in their hurry, its architects forgot that National Sports Development would have to encompass a larger canvas and not be limited to regulating or controlling National Sports Federations. It will be interesting to see how the Ministry reacts to the challenge laid down by and the opportunity presented by wise counsel in the Cabinet who suggested that it reworks the Bill.
(This piece was translated and appeared in Dainik Bhaskar on September 1, 2011)