Intro: There was a feeling that Mudgal report would lead to a criminal investigation into the world of IPL, but it disappointed all those who were looking to see concrete action against those guilty of match fixing. Now, SC’s intervention only can help clean-up the mess.
There is no doubt that the Indian Premier league (IPL) which mixed the heady cocktail of Bollywood, cricket and financial jugglery does not meet the standards of probity or propriety. The entire league which was a creation of the fertile imagination of Lalit Modi has turned a victim of its own success. Its colourful clothes and even more colourful after match parties were precursor to an even more colourful money spinning game which could at the best be termed as grossly immoral but would most likely be termed as illegal and criminal in the days to come.
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IPL signalled the arrival of the new India in the area of sports. As a shortened form of the old gentleman's game of cricket filled with colour and adrenaline played in the format of 20 x 20 it created headlines all over the world. In international magazines it was touted as the first commercialisation of the lucrative Indian market of sports. It was compared at its height with the popularity of the English Premier League football and the European cup. However since then as everybody knows there has been a precipitous fall in the reputation of the Indian Premier league.
The question as to whether the league was a victim of its own audacious and extraordinary success, or whether it was meant to be a money spinning gameplay is yet to be answered. There are people who still follow the game today and can rattle off scores of all the players and are avid followers of their respective teams which they choose to support. However, there is an increasing group of sceptics who seem to have come to the belief that Indian Premier League is as real as the wrestling matches of The World Wrestling Federation.
The Supreme Court monitored investigation into the goings-on of the league therefore aroused great interest in the minds of those who are interested in the sport and the league. It was hoped at the time when the entire move towards investigation into the matters concerning IPL was launched that the exercise of investigation and probe would eventually lead to a much more transparent league. It was hoped also that possibly a deeper examination of the workings of the IPL specially in relation to allegations of match fixing which went to the heart of the contest would eventually lead to a cleaning up of the league and the sport of cricket itself.
Allegations of match fixing are not new to cricket, as in sport as such. Questions of fixing of matches and bribery have been haunting cricket for some time. Some of the greatest players of their era, like Mohammad Azharuddin and Kepler Wessels have been found to have been involved in betting and match fixing. The truth behind the said events even till today is murky. However at various times the BCCI and ICC have been attempting or making noises about cleaning up the game. The allegations of match fixing however have not completely disappeared though in the last few years it seems to have dropped out of public memory.
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The Mudgal committee report which was part of the Supreme Court monitored investigation into the affairs of the Indian Premier league and the strange goings-on involving the BCCI President N Srinivasan, his son-in-law Gurunath Meyippan, the businessmen Raj Kundra and assorted cricket players therefore promised to be explosive. There were a lot of expectations riding on it and many hoped that those cricketers who have been involved or implicated in fixing matches would be exposed by the report. There was also a feeling that may be the report would lead to a criminal investigation into the world of IPL.
Therefore when the report didn't name the six prominent cricket players who seem to be involved in match fixing and only highlighted conflicts of interest without recommending clear criminality it disappointed a lot of those who were looking to see concrete action taken against those guilty of match fixing. The report interestingly when dealing with questions of prosecution of those involved in such betting and match fixing suggested various steps including criminalising betting and match fixing, a zero tolerance policy towards betting and match fixing and creating a joint investigation team to investigate the allegations of betting and match fixing. However most interestingly the report was clearly ambiguous on the question as to whether there was actual criminality committed by violating section 415 and section 420 of the IPC by cheating people. The report recommended that the Supreme Court may direct comprehensive investigation by competent statutory authority to prosecute/identify criminals. In other words the report deliberately chose not to identify the criminals who were involved in match fixing and betting even though as would be apparent from the report itself, it knew who these people were.
Therefore when the Report was placed before the Supreme Court of India, the Court faced a dilemma. In law the dilemma was that most of those who would be affected by the probe if it were to institute a criminal probe were not actually parties before the court. The solution of the Supreme Court therefore in the orders subsequent to the submission of the report has been to issue formal notice to implead Raj Kundra, Gurunath Meiyappan and Sunder Raman, because they would be the persons most affected by such criminal investigation if they were to be launched. The court noted that except N Srinivasan none of the persons named in the committee report were parties. The Supreme Court also allowed all the parties if they so chose to file objections against the report itself.
Another Cover Story: Ways to Curb Betting & Match Fixing
The matter today is precariously poised therefore. On one hand it seems that there is a possibility that the court may go the way of the committee and choose not to enter in to the controversy surrounding IPL thereby letting off lightly those who have been involved in the betting and match fixing. Considering the fact that IPL today is a magnet which attracts both businesspersons and politicians, the normal assumption of an everyday person is possibly the court will keep its hands of the murky dealings of the IPL. It would seem to a normal person watching the proceedings before the court and the committee that the entire exercise was a charade to cover up the illegal actions which seemed to have gone hand-in-hand with the league itself.
However, the courts like cricket are known to be unpredictable. The Supreme Court in many occasions surprised many by its proactive action in different subjects. An optimist would believe that the Supreme Court would surprise the naysayers and in fact is gathering all the evidence needed and plugging all the loopholes required for a foolproof investigation. The court which is today in session of the matter consisting of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Khalifulla have a reputation of being correct in procedure and law but quite unforgiving when it comes to investigation into the truth. In fact it is my surmise that this investigation may turn out to be the counterpart of the Saradha scam investigation eventually and when such probe will happen, those heaving sighs of relief as having escaped the noose of law may have a lot to regret about.
Vikramjit Banerjee (The writer is Advocate with Supreme Court of India)