India has done little to instill fear of law in minds of fixers

The heart sank as Justice Jeremy Cooke handed out prison terms and financial penalties to three cricketers and a bookmaker in far away London on Thursday. For the first time, cricketers were being sentenced in a court of law for being greedy as well as abetting and committing on-field misdemeanours.

Freeze frames of the events that shook the very foundations of cricket in the year 2000 came rushing back to the mind. And, at the same time, it was tough to stop oneself from wondering what would have happened had the cricketers been trapped by a sting operation in the sub-continent.

Justice Cooke’s reference to the underworld is shocking but not new because it is in keeping with the Central Bureau of Investigation’s findings. It is a good wager – and one uses the word quite consciously – that a court of law would never been called upon to hear such a case. So what is the primary difference between what Scotland Yard achieved now, with help from the News of the World, and what the Central Bureau of Investigation did in the year 2000?

First and foremost, there was irrefutable video evidence of bookmaker Mazhar Majeed setting it all up and receiving cash from the News of the World’s undercover reporter. Then, there was hard evidence in the form of marked currency notes that was recovered from the bookmaker himself, Salman Butt and Mohammed Aamer. Above all, Majeed and Aamer pleaded guilty in court when they were booked under the Gambling Act 2005.

The Indian investigation never reached a court of law. The Preliminary Enquiry that Central Bureau of Investigation conducted in 2000 was unable to make much headway, at least from a legal perspective. CBI did not take the Tehelka video tapes seriously and relied to a great extent on depositions by bookmakers and some circumstantial evidence to draw its inferences.

CBI – and its legal adviser – analysed the provisions of IPC Section 120-A, dealing with criminal conspiracy, and Section 415, dealing with cheating. They concluded that the facts of enquiry did not constitute an offence under these sections of law. “However reprehensible the conduct of the players concerned may be, it cannot be brought within the parameters of ‘cheating’, as defined in the (Indian Penal) Code,” Justice (retd) Monoj Kumar Mukherjee wrote to CBI. He also examined the case under the Public Gambling Act 1867 and Delhi Public Gambling Act 1955 and wrote that it must be kept in mind that the punishment provided for the offence is lenient – six months jail and a fine of Rs 1000 – and not at all commensurate with the magnitude of the crime.

CBI also discussed its findings and the report with the then Solicitor General of India Harish Salve. It indicated that he was in broad agreement that no criminal charges under cheating or under the Gambling Act could be filed against anyone because of the nebulous position of law in this regard.

The other reason put forth by CBI for not filing criminal charges was an admitted improbability of obtaining sufficient evidence that would pass muster in court. CBI also concluded that the facts as disclosed in the enquiry do not constitute any offence under the provisions of Indian Penal Code.

It is clear that our lawmakers are not serious about ensuring that our sport has the chance to be clean – and to be seen as clean. Else, they would not have ignored the warnings from CBI that there were clear signals that the underworld had started taking interest in the betting racket and was expected to take overall control of this activity.

“It does appear that what may have been small-time wagering (which to some extent is inevitable) has now been replaced by an organised syndicate, and this syndicate has started interfering with the purity of the sport. It has been the negligence of the police and the other regulatory authorities,that has allowed wagering to turn into an organised racket, particularly with the involvement of the underworld,” the CBI said.

Worse, the CBI held out a warning. “With a large amount of money at stake in the betting racket on cricket, it makes sense for both bookies and punters to manipulate results of cricket matches. This has resulted in their developing a close and unholy relationship with cricketers,” it said, adding that the game had lost a considerable degree of its credibility already, and it would be a matter of national shame if the problems which, to some extent apparent form the evidence gathered and narrated in the report, are not immediately and decisively resolved.

Shockingly, even though 11 years have passed since Superintendent of Police MA Ganapathy scripted that interim report, India’s position remains the same. We still do not have a law to try anyone – player or bookmaker – on a criminal charge. We have left it to the Board of Control for Cricket in India to prevent and, if necessary, punish the players while the bookmakers walk away scot free.

There has been so much focus on how the cricketers awarded jail sentences are from Pakistan. There has been a rush to vilify Pakistan cricket. And in that quest, we have overlooked the fact that we have done precious little to instill the fear of the law in the minds and hearts of those who can perpetrate the crime of taking the joy away from the wonderful game that we love so much.