The Supreme Court has relaxed the cooling-off period rule in the BCCI constitution, which will allow the current set of office-bearers led by board president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah to stand for re-election for another term, until 2025. A two-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli passed orders to this effect on Wednesday – the formal judgement has not yet been made public -modifying its 2018 judgement.
The court agreed to tweaking the existing rule on the cooling-off period by allowing an office bearer to hold office for two terms at one place – the state association or BCCI – while removing the clause of combination of both. Ganguly and Shah had already served one term each at the state and BCCI levels and would have been disqualified under the existing rule. They can now serve an additional term at the BCCI.
In 2018, the BCCI adopted a newly drafted constitution, which was finalised post the court’s judgement by Justice Chandrachud, that an office bearer who has held any post for two consecutive terms (six years) either at a state association or in the BCCI, or a combination of both, shall not be eligible to contest any further election without completing a cooling-off period of three years. During the cooling-off period, the person cannot serve in any capacity at both the BCCI or state level.
In 2019, the BCCI administration approached the court seeking several significant amendments to the board’s constitution, which if approved by the court would roll back the sweeping reforms passed by the court in 2016 on the basis of the RM Lodha Committee recommendations. The changes sought by the BCCI comprised: tweaking the cooling-off period of the board’s office bearers, modifying the disqualification criteria, giving unprecedented powers to the BCCI secretary, and stopping the court from having any say if the board wants to alter the constitution.
In its 2019 plea, the BCCI said the existing cooling-off period was a “restriction”, which was “proving to be a big blow to selecting talented and experienced hands”. The BCCI said the cooling-off period must be applied only after the individual has finished six years at one place – the BCCI or the state association, separately.
That clause, it said, would be applicable to its two most senior office bearers: the president and secretary. As for the three remaining office bearers – treasurer, joint-secretary and vice-president – the BCCI said those three should be allowed to finish the maximum tenure of nine years (three terms), instead of having to take the three-year break after two consecutive terms (six years) in the job.
“Existing position is by using the word combination, even if you have done one term in state and one term in BCCI then you are out,” Justice Chandrachud said in the hearing. “But what we are proposing is that if you have done six years at the state level then you are subject to a three-year cooling-off period (at state). If you have not done six years at the same level then you are not subject to a cooling-off period.”
Justice Chandrachud said another “format” the court could “possibly consider” was “a person can be a member at the most for two consecutive terms either at the state or at the BCCI. But if you have two completed two consecutive terms each of three years at the state and BCCI then you must have a cooling-off period of three years. That is two different proposals. Our first proposal was three in state, six in the BCCI (or) six in the state three in the BCCI, after which cooling-off period will apply.
“Second, we are giving a more liberal thing: you can do six in the state, you can then immediately do six in the BCCI because they are two different levels. But after completing two consecutive terms at two different levels then take a break of three years.”
Justice Chandrachud also said that once the person had finished six years at one place – state or BCCI – he could not return to the same for three years. And in case the person had finished 12 years at a stretch – six each at state and BCCI – he could not return for a period of three years to either.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that these were his observations at this stage before he and Justice Kohli put out the order. Both justices agreed that such an approach would be more “balanced”.
If the court does pass the same in its judgement, that would allow the current BCCI office bearers to continue for another term of three years. It was in October 2019 that former India captain Ganguly was elected as BCCI president and Shah, who is the son of India Home Minister Amit Shah, as secretary. Arun Dhumal, brother of former BCCI president Anurag Thakur, who is also the Indian Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, was elected as BCCI treasurer while Jayesh George took charge as joint secretary.
The BCCI is due for fresh elections, which was originally scheduled for the end of this month, but eventually postponed as the board wanted to wait for the court take a call on the amendments sought.
Justice Chandrachud added the main reason for having a cooling-off period was to avoid any “vested interests” because “you don’t form a clique with undesirable elements for undesirable purposes.” He said that it was “too stringent” to ask the office bearer to take a three-year break if he had served six years through a combination of state and BCCI or served just six years at state level or BCCI level.
Justice Chandrachud said that while he had the “highest respect” for the RM Lodha Committee which had recommended originally a cooling-off period of three years after every single term of three years for an office bearer or administrator, he felt it was important to remember the court was “regulating affairs” as an autonomous body and it was important to give BCCI “sufficient” freedom “so long as they are not defeating the purpose” of the judgement.
“The (court’s) object is to prevent undesirable monopolies in cricket or in any sports association. You have to balance two things – you have to balance to need for continuity with the need for to ensure there are no undesirable affiliations. Instead of having two terms at two different levels (BCCI and state) as a bar, one term at two different levels as a bar, we are saying that you can’t have more than two terms at one level.”
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo