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New Delhi: The Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee on Monday cleared former Indian Premier League (IPL) chief operations officer Sundar Raman of wrongdoing in connection with the 2013 betting and spot-fixing scandal surrounding the popular Twenty20 tournament, and suggested sweeping changes to clean up Indian cricket, including legalizing betting “with strong safeguards".

“We have not found any cogent evidence of corruption or intent to protect anyone on Sundar Raman’s part," the committee said.

Raman quit the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in November last year while a probe by Supreme Court-nominated investigation officer Vivek Priyadarshi was pending against him.

Raman has since joined Reliance Industries Ltd as its chief executive officer, sports.

The three-member committee, comprising former chief justice of India R.M. Lodha and former Supreme Court judges Ashok Bhan and R. Raveendran, was set up by the apex court on 22 January last year to recommend the punishment for Gurunath Meiyappan, Raj Kundra and their respective IPL teams, the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. The two men were banned for life from any cricket-related activity in July after being found guilty of involvement in the 2013 scandal. Their IPL franchises were suspended for two years.

The Lodha committee was also asked to look into the role of Raman and recommend administrative reforms for BCCI.

While the committee’s report on the first two issues (franchises and Raman) will be binding on the BCCI, the recommendations on the administrative front will remain advisory in nature until the apex court takes a decision on them.

‘One state, one vote’

The committee made several potentially far-reaching recommendations on the way India’s apex cricketing body functions.

It recommended a ‘one state, one vote’ formula which would mean only cricketing bodies representing a state would have full membership and voting rights in the BCCI. Non-territorial members of the board, such as the National Cricket Club, Cricket Club of India, Railway Sports Promotion Board, Services Sports Control Board and All India Universities, must be relegated to the status of associate members without voting rights, the report said.

At the moment, there are 30 full member associations spread across five zones—North, South, East, Central and West. These include multiple associations within a single state, such as Maharashtra (Mumbai, Maharashtra and Vidarbha) and Gujarat (Saurashtra, Baroda and Gujarat), who have three bodies respectively.

Andhra Pradesh, until it was bifurcated last year, had two associations—Andhra and Hyderabad. Today, Hyderabad effectively represents the newly created state of Telangana. The eight states of the North-east make up an under-represented region in cricketing terms, with only two full-member associations—Assam and Tripura.

The report also suggested term limits and eligibility criteria for office-bearers of BCCI.

“No minister or government office holder can be a BCCI official," Justice Lodha said.

The committee suggested a cumulative period of nine years as the maximum term for any office-bearer and said no office-bearer should be allowed to contest any post in subsequent elections. This includes a “rider" through a mandatory cooling-off period of one term to contest elections, irrespective of the post. This means that an official cannot hold any BCCI posts in consecutive terms.

Delinking IPL and BCCI

A key recommendation is to separate the IPL, a billion-dollar Twenty20 tournament, from the other activities of the BCCI. In making the recommendation, the committee also proposed a revamp of the existing BCCI governing council (GC) and its membership.

It suggested that the GC comprise nine members—two ex-officio members (secretary and treasurer), two members nominated or elected by full members, two nominees of IPL franchises, two from proposed players’ associations and one from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office.

Besides, the committee recommended the creation of three new positions—an ombudsman, an ethics officer and an electoral officer. The ombudsman’s position has already been filled, with the BCCI appointing A.P. Shah to the key role during its annual general meeting in November last year. Shah, formerly the chief justice of Delhi high court, will look into complaints involving conflicts of interest.

Legalized betting?

The committee also recommended legalizing betting, although “with strong safeguards". For instance, said Lodha, “even if legalized, for players and team officials, betting is a big no".

The report made a case for criminalizing spot and match-fixing.

The BCCI has previously made two representations to the government proposing legalization of betting but they weren’t considered.

Lodha said the committee favours bringing the BCCI under the purview of the Right to Information Act, although the matter is sub judice.

It also recommended the establishment of players’ associations, which would offer membership to all Indian international and most first-class cricketers who had retired not less than five years ago.

The panel proposed a steering committee headed by former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai with former Test cricketers Anil Kumble, Diana Edulji and Mohinder Amarnath as members to establish players’ associations.

“The associations will have a voice in the BCCI and IPL governing councils but shall not act as a union," the report clarified.

On 14 July, the Lodha Committee found Meiyappan, son-in-law of former BCCI president N. Srinivasan, and Kundra guilty of betting on match outcomes in the 2013 edition of the IPL.

Some of the committee’s recommendations were met with scepticism.

“How can they abandon the Indian Railways? In days of yore, when no organization was willing to employ cricketers, the Railways gave them jobs. This is their contribution to Indian cricket," said a senior official of the cricket board about the ‘one state, one vote’ suggestion. He did not wish to be named.

“They also have so many grounds across the country. How can they be made an associate member? Is there any logic to it," the official asked.

“The BCCI predates India. India has been in existence for only 68 years, while the BCCI has been around for 85 years. How can you suddenly subvert an institution which has stood the test of time? Do people know that Mumbai Cricket Association and the Maharashtra Cricket Association were founded in 1934? You can’t destroy the history and the fabric of the sport with such sweeping changes," he said.

The BCCI official wasn’t too impressed with recommendations on membership of the GC either, questioning the proposed presence of two franchise officials.

“This is only furthering conflict of interest. Because two franchise owners are sitting in a committee of a league in which they have financial interest," the official said.

“The recommendation as regards legalizing betting is not something that is new, as several industry bodies such as Ficci (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) have urged the government to legalize betting on sport previously. However, the fact that a Supreme Court-appointed committee has also recommended legalization will definitely give a push to the ‘pro-legalization’ lobby’s efforts," said Amrut Joshi, founder, GameChanger Law Advisors, a boutique corporate and sports law firm.

“While the suggestion is well-intended, the government would need to think through and clarify a whole host of conceptual issues while debating the passage of a law that allows betting on sport," he added.

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