Very difficult to accept Srinivasan’s no conflict of interest argument: SC

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday appeared unconvinced by cricket board president N Srinivasan’s attempts to get a green signal for re-election as BCCI chief by expressing concern over possible conflict of interest as the Justice Mudgal Committee had indicted his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan for betting in IPL.

Appearing for Srinivasan, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said there was no law anywhere in the world, practiced by any international sports federation, which disqualified a person from contesting elections because of alleged wrongdoings of his relatives.

“Right to participate in an election has nothing to do with conflict of interest. As and when such a situation arises, Srinivasan will step aside, as he had done when BCCI was taking action against Meiyappan. Since 2008 till date, no evidence has been put up before any forum about any conflict of interest concerning Srinivasan. Justice Mudgal Committee report has given him a clean chit,” Sibal said.

But a bench of Justices T S Thakur and F M I Kalifulla was far from convinced. It said conflict of interest operated more subtly than what Sibal thought. “Would the board be in a position to take a dispassionate view on the punishment to be handed down to Meiyappan even if Srinivasan steps aside from the IPL governing council when it takes up the issue,” it asked.

“The board president should be above board. He should not provide any scope for allegations relating to conflict of interest. You are the managing director of India Cements, which owns the franchise Chennai Super Kings. Meiyappan is the official of CSK and found by the committee to have indulged in betting. Can the board take a dispassionate view and decide punishment? It is very difficult to accept there is no conflict of interest,” the bench said.

Sibal suggested that the Mudgal Committee report be handed over to BCCI for taking action. “An independent committee of the board would look into the findings and decide action to be taken on it. Srinivasan would not be part of it,” he said.

The bench said, “One of the consequences of the Justice Mudgal report and the misdemeanour of Meiyappan is disqualification of CSK. If Srinivasan is the judge, would the public accept that there is no conflict of interest? We are not averse to the suggestion to let BCCI take action consequent to the inquiry report. But we must be sure that there are no elements inside the board to derail it.”

Sibal’s attempt to drive home his core argument – that there was no law which fastened liability of a person’s wrongdoing on his relative and prevented him from contesting elections – invited a barrage of questions. He said if conflict of interest got a narrow interpretation, then Anil Kumble, Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly would also have to give up their commentary assignments outside BCCI.

The bench sought to differentiate between Srinivasan and the cricketers who, apart from their BCCI job, give expert comments on television channels.

Sibal cited the conflict of interest guidelines framed by International Hockey Federation (FIH) to argue that these too did not prevent an administrator from contesting elections and provided that he needed to step aside in a situation where conflict of interest arose.

But he conceded that BCCI did not have any regulation or guidelines on conflict of interest. The bench said elections to a private society and elections to a society discharging public functions were quite apart. It said it would look into the conflict of interest issue more minutely. The arguments will continue on Tuesday.

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