Mumbai/New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday urged N. Srinivasan to step down as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to ensure a free and fair investigation into the spot-fixing and betting scandal that marred last year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament.

Srinivasan’s continuation in office is “nauseating", an apex court bench headed by justice A.K. Patnaik said, adding that the court will pass an order to force him to step down if he fails to do so voluntarily.

Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is a suspect in the scandal that surfaced in the sixth edition of the popular Twenty20 cricket tournament and brought the spotlight back to the menace of betting and fixing that has dogged cricket.

Allegations against Meiyappan surfaced after the Delhi Police arrested three Rajasthan Royals players for conspiring with bookies to fix specific outcomes in a match, such as runs in a particular over. The arrests were followed by a crackdown against bookies across the country.

The Supreme Court’s latest observations come less than a month before edition seven of IPL gets underway in the United Arab Emirates, where the first leg of the tournament is to be staged to avoid a clash of dates with the April-May general election.

According to the Supreme Court’s website, the apex court was on Tuesday hearing cross appeals filed by BCCI and the Cricket Association of Bihar on a verdict by the Bombay high court declaring a probe panel appointed by BCCI into the spot-fixing scandal as “illegal and unconstitutional".

After going through a report filed in a sealed cover by a separate Supreme Court-appointed panel headed by justice Mukul Mudgal, the court said it contained “very very serious" allegations and that unless Srinivasan stepped down, no fair probe can be conducted.

“In our opinion, Srinivasan has to step down if proper probe is to be done in the case," the bench headed by justice Patnaik said. “Why is he sticking to the chair? It is nauseating," the bench added. “If you would not step down, we will pass the verdict."

It said that the contents of the report, which also raised doubts about the role of six India-capped players in the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal, cannot be revealed in open court and asked BCCI counsel to go through some portions of it.

At the hearing, BCCI pleaded before the court not to disclose the report’s contents and the names of players mentioned in it.

The court fixed the next date of hearing on 27 March.

When reached for comment, Srinivasan said he was busy in a meeting. He couldn’t be contacted later. C.A. Sundaram, senior counsel representing BCCI, also declined to comment on grounds that the matter was sub judice. Srinivasan was quoted as saying by NDTV channel that he would study the court’s observations.

Cricket officials said Srinivasan may have no choice but to step down in light of the apex court’s observations.

“As far as the Mumbai Cricket Association is concerned, the court order has to be obeyed. There are no two ways about it. If the court says that an impartial, free and fair probe can be conducted only if Srinivasan steps down, he has to step down," said Ravi Savant, Mumbai Cricket Association vice-president and vice-president, BCCI (west zone).

“I think the highest court of India has made an observation, and it has to be treated with the respect and seriousness it deserves," said Ajay Shirke, president of the Maharashtra Cricket Association.

Following the betting and spot-fixing scandal last year, along with the allegations levied against his son-in-law, Srinivasan faced immense pressure to step down from his post at BCCI. His reluctance to quit led to the exit of some senior BCCI officials.

Srinivasan reluctantly stepped aside from his post for some time last year. He won election for a third term in September. A BCCI-appointed panel cleared his name as well as Meiyappan’s. On 30 July, in response to a plea filed by the Cricket Association of Bihar challenging the BCCI panel’s findings, the Supreme Court set up the Mudgal committee.

In its report submitted to the Supreme Court on 10 February, the committee comprising Mudgal, additional solicitor general L. Nageswara Rao and senior advocate Nilay Dutta, said the panel had found Srinivasan’s son-in-law guilty of betting.

It refused to accept the contention by Srinivasan and his India Cements Ltd, which owns the Chennai Super Kings franchise, that Meiyappan was merely an “enthusiast" of the game who did not hold any official post in managing the team. Meiyappan had been previously described as a ‘principal’ of the team.

The report recommended that BCCI proceed against Meiyappan for betting and allegedly passing on inside information, without waiting for the conclusion of the criminal case against him.

It said allegations that the owners of the Rajasthan Royals team were involved in betting and fixing need “thorough investigation". The committee termed the measures undertaken by BCCI in combating sporting fraud as “ineffective and insufficient".

PTI contributed to this story.

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