Indian cricket’s graft-fighter anxious for verdict

‘It seems things are back to square one again’

21:00 December 30, 2017
Justice R.M. Lodha

Dubai: For those following the rollercoaster run of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the last four years, Aditya Verma is certainly no stranger. It’s his public interest litigation about the farcical ‘probe’ into allegations of betting and match-fixing in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) which had first shaken up the cash-rich, heavyweight Indian board — triggering the fall of two presidents along the way.

The Justice R.M. Lodha Commission, formed in 2015 to restructure the functioning of the BCCI under the Supreme Court’s orders, had for the first time raised serious hopes of reforms in the way cricket is being run by the richest governing body in the game. In January this year, push had come to shove when the apex court sacked the top brass of the board (read president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke) for dragging their feet in implementing the recommendations.

There are, however, signs of a status quo settling in recent months — and this is what is worrying the whistleblower of Indian cricket.

“It’s a battle which has passed through the benches of 11 Supreme Court judges and I have staked my all in it. I need to take it to its logical conclusion now,” said Verma, who is the secretary of the unrecognised Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB).

It was nearly one and-a-half years back on July 18, 2016, that the Supreme Court had ordered the BCCI to implement the recommendations of the Lodha Committee recommendations to the tee. “Everybody knows how the BCCI had been dragging their feet and had been refusing to budge over a number of key issues like the one-state-one-vote solution, the age cap of 70 years for any official and the bar on any minister or holder of a political position holding a chair,” a somewhat frustrated Verma reflected in a chat with Gulf News.

As someone who is well aware that the powerful mandarins in the board could potentially defuse the crisis with time, Verma points out that the eroding strength of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) is also not helping the administrative committee to clean up the mess. “From a four-member committee formed in January, only two of them — chairman Vinod Rai [former Comptroller and Auditor General of India] and Diana Eduljee are present now. The two vacant posts are yet to be filled up, which gives a clear signal that the interest levels are waning now. It seems we are back to square one,” he said.

It may be recalled that two of the erstwhile members — Vikram Limaye, former CEO and managing director of the Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) had stepped down last June with a new assignment while Ramachandra Guha, the cricket historian and columnist, vacated his post just before that after giving vent to his frustration at the ‘superstar culture’ and rampant ‘conflict of interests’ in Indian cricket.

The fight taken up by Verma, who could easily pass off as a nine-to-five government official in his mid-fities has enough ammunition for a film script in it. The oddity, however, lies in the fact it was no street lawyer — a la John Grisham novel — who brought the bigwigs to their knees. It’s two of the most high-profile legal heavyweights of the country who often fought his cases over the years — Nalini Chidambaram and Harish Salve — though Verma insists they have not charged a single rupee from him.

There have been also suggestions that he had been acting as a front for Lalit Modi, the exiled former chairman of IPL and a sworn enemy of former strongman N. Srinivasan. Verma, however, does not shy away from the truth: “Yes, I have got help not only from Modi but the likes of Sharad Pawar, Jagmohan Dalmiya and Shashank Manohar. They were not monetary help but the odd assistance about getting air tickets, cars etc. I must also thank Subodh Kant Sahay, a former Union minister and Congress MP,” he said.

Life hasn’t been easy though for this former small-time cricketer and an employee of Tata Steel during his battle against such mis-matched opposition. “I had some savings from the sale of an ancestral property in Chhapra district of Bihar, which has been sunk into the litigations. Both me and my wife had to cope with numerous threats to our life, but I refuse to buckle down,” Verma says.

It was actually with the plea to rehabilitate Bihar in domestic cricket that Verma had started off his mission more than decade back.

“It was Amitabh Chowdhury, the current treasurer of the BCCI and president of Jharkhand Cricket Association [JCA], who fraudulently changed the constitution and made Jharkhand body the representative body of the region.

“It was an anomaly that should stop as Bihar had been an integral part of the BCCI since 1930s and has also played Ranji Trophy finals.

“My aim is to bring back Bihar into the mainstream as numerous promising youngsters, including my son Lakhan Raja [playing for Mumbai Police Gymkhana at the moment], are missing out on the opportunity to break into the big league,” he added.