Cricket administration in India is mired in plenty of shady dealings but the Delhi & District Cricket Association probably takes the cake. Proxy voting, unauthorised construction, warring factions – it has it all. It is a wonder that Delhi can actually field a cricket team amidst all the upheaval.
Defaulting on tax
It became clear yet again that everything wasn’t well at the DDCA during the recently-held India-South Africa Test series when the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi was allotted the fourth and final Test of the series, starting on December 3. It was a decision which raised plenty of eyebrows – the Delhi body had failed to submit a balance sheet of its finances from 2013 to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, because of allegations of financial impropriety. The DDCA was also accused of defaulting on entertainment tax from 2008 to 2012. The BCCI issued an ultimatum to the Delhi body – get your house in order or we will shift the Test elsewhere.
A beleaguered DDCA decided to approach the Delhi government for tax relief but it was caught on the wrong foot. A host of other individuals including former cricketers Bishen Singh Bedi, Kirti Azad and current Delhi Ranji captain Gautam Gambhir had already met the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to apprise him of their frustrations about the going-ons inside the Delhi cricket body. The Delhi government then announced an investigation into the organisation. The findings of this probe that have become the key point in the current fracas.
According to the Indian Express, the findings of the probe make for sobering reading. Transactions within the DDCA were routinely made without the approval of the board of directors or the central government. The cost of reconstructing the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium ballooned from Rs 24 crore to Rs 114 crore. At a press briefing on Thursday, an Aam Aadmi Party leader questioned where the Rs 90 crore had disappeared. There are also reports of the illegal sub-leasing of corporate boxes, without proper building approvals or completion certificates.
But where does Arun Jaitley come in?
Finance Minister Jaitley presided over the DDCA’s affairs from 1999 to 2013, the time when the majority of the DDCA’s alleged bungling took place. Though the report of a panel set up by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs absolves Jaitley of all blame, claiming that he was a “non-executive chairman without involvement in day-to-day affairs of the company”, questions remain about his silence about these alleged misdeed.
At the very least, as president of the DDCA during those years, a reasonable argument could be made that Jaitley was aware of what was happening but preferred to turn a blind eye on it, similar to the way Manmohan Singh was accused of acting during his second tenure as prime minister. Besides, there is evidence that Jaitley did have a fair idea of what was going on. In an interview to Cobrapost in January, Bedi said that he had sent over 200 letters to Jaitley about the alleged misgovernance within the DDCA but without receiving a reply. BJP MP Kirti Azad also sent a letter to Jaitley earlier in the year outlining the complaints and calling for a First Information Report to be launched against the finance minister and other office-bearers of the DDCA. In addition to all this, of course, is Jaitley’s own written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2015, as the minister of corporate affairs, where he said that the “Registrar of Companies was instructed to take action on violations” of certain sections, which he alluded to again in his Facebook post on Thursday when he claimed that “there are certain irregularities/non-compliance or technical violations, but no fraud”.
Does Jaitley have a defence?
On his part, Jaitley has responded by dismissing the allegations and accusing the Delhi chief minister of trying to divert attention. In regards to to the allegations of financial impropriety surrounding the DDCA, Jailey brought up the Serious Fraud Investigation Office report which said “no fraud [was] noticed as alleged” and reacted to questions about cost escalation during the reconstruction of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium with: “When work expands, cost escalations are integral.”
Is there any merit in AAP’s demand for Jaitley’s resignation?
AAP has gone for the jugular calling for Jaitley’s resignation and putting out a detailed press releaseof charges, but action on that is unlikely anytime soon. For one, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and all its member associations enjoy the protection of remaining outside the purview of the Right to Information Act and Jaitley could always argue that what happened within a private body has no bearing on his current ministerial post.
But more importantly, the happenings at the DDCA are just an indication of a larger problem. Sports associations in India in general, and cricket bodies in particular, are major cash-cows and are often headed by politicians to further push their own agendas.