In May, 2013, when the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was in progress, the cricket world was turned upside down by the arrest of cricketers of international repute and close relatives of the top honchos of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), on allegations of spot-fixing and betting. The events set in motion by this action finally led to the Supreme Court setting up a committee under Justice R. M. Lodha to study the functioning of the BCCI and recommend measures for improvement. This, in turn, finally led to the removal of the top brass of the BCCI and entrusting of its administration with a Committee of Administrators (CoA), presently in charge.
The player who was at the epicenter of the spot-fixing scam was S. Sreesanth, one of the finest fast bowlers produced by the country. He was a member of the national squad that won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and the ICC World Cup in 2011. He had won Test matches for the country in South Africa and the West Indies and had developed a reputation as a fierce and fearless fighter on the field. However, media had succeeded in projecting his antics more than his bowling skills and this created an image of him as the perennial bad boy of Indian cricket. Hence, when he was arrested and paraded around by the Delhi Police with a black hood around his head, it appeared to be in tune with the image created about him of being a 'rogue' player.
As expected, Sreesanth was suspended by the BCCI immediately after his arrest. He spent almost one month behind bars as the Delhi Police tried to slap the provisions of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), alleging that he had acted as per directions of dreaded underworld dons. However, the Delhi High Court did not allow that citing insufficient evidence and granted him bail in June, 2013. Meanwhile, the BCCI conducted a super quick investigation, under the supervision of Ravi Sawani, it's anti-corruption and security chief, under whose watch all these infractions had happened. The disciplinary committee of the BCCI considered the report submitted by Sawani and after going through the motions of granting a hearing, slapped a life ban on Sreesanth in September, 2013. Thus, within a short span of four months after the Delhi Police arrested him, Sreesanth found himself banned for life from playing cricket.
Delhi Police filed the charge sheet before the trial court after completing their investigation. However, this charge sheet was quashed by the additional sessions judge who found that there was no evidence to link any of the accused to the unlawful activities as alleged. The Patiala House Court discharged all accused, including Sreesanth, through this order passed in July, 2015. The appeal filed by Delhi Police against this order is still pending before the Delhi High Court.
However, the BCCI took the position that the life ban imposed on Sreesanth would continue in spite of the orders of the trial court discharging him. The BCCI’s stand was that investigation and consequent action taken by it were separate and not linked with the proceedings before the trial court and hence decision of the said court would not have any impact on its position. The BCCI has continued to hold on to this stand despite the passage of time. Even as late as last week, it reiterated this when Sreesanth filed an application for being allowed to play in Scottish league, where his services were sought as a professional player.
Though the BCCI is technically correct in saying that its actions are independent of and not influenced by proceedings before courts of law, the following aspects merit consideration
1) Was the BCCI right in asking Sawani, who failed in his job to prevent spot-fixing, to conduct the investigation?
2) Did this investigation succeed in getting any new evidence that the Delhi Police did not possess?
3) Was proper procedure, involving principles of natural justice, followed before imposing life ban?
4) What are the appellate remedies available to Sreesanth against the decision of the disciplinary committee?
To the best of knowledge of this writer, the answer to all these questions are “No/ Nil”. The BCCI has not yet brought into public domain either the findings of its investigation or the procedures followed by it before imposing life ban on Sreesanth. Thus it can be seen that there are many infirmities in the investigation and procedures adopted by the BCCI before banning him for life.
Further, it should also be noted that the investigating unit of the BCCI is not vested with powers for issuing summons and calling for documents; hence the investigators could only have relied upon voluntary statements of those who appeared before them and the documents procured from the Delhi Police. Hence, one can reasonably conclude that the findings of its investigation was based on whatever evidence it could get from the Delhi Police and not the outcome of any independent work. The disciplinary committee of the BCCI accepted this report with alacrity and straightaway imposed life ban on the cricketers. Since a court of law has held conclusively that whatever evidence was gathered by the Delhi Police has not succeeded in linking the accused with any unlawful activity, it would emerge that the case of the BCCI also would fall apart, if it is examined in detail by an independent body or a judicial forum.
While imposition of life ban on Sreesanth by the BCCI could be justified as an attempt to show “zero tolerance towards corruption”, holding on to the same view even after the passage of time revealed that the original inference is incorrect, is unjust. By denying Sreesanth an opportunity to play the game, the BCCI is preventing him from practising his profession and earning his livelihood. In a society where even convicted offenders are allowed opportunities to reform and lead normal lives, it is a gross miscarriage of justice that this talented player, who has been exonerated by a court of law, is treated in such a callous and cavalier manner.
It would have earned the BCCI and its CoA, plaudits and considerable goodwill had they reversed the earlier decision and revoked the life ban on Sreesanth. It would make them look small if they are forced to do so under the orders of a court of law, which is bound to happen sooner than later.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)