The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was an autonomous body discharging duties such as selection of an Indian cricket team, controlling the activities of the players and others involved in the game of cricket. The BCCI could not be brought within the ambit of "other authorities" under Article 12 of the Constitution, the court said.
A five-judge Constitution Bench by a majority of 3:2 gave this ruling while dismissing a writ petition filed by Zee Telefilms challenging the termination of contract awarded to it for telecast of cricket matches in India between 2004 (from the India-Australia cricket series held in November) and 2008 and to re-open the tender process.
The Bench comprising Mr Justice N. Santosh Hegde, Mr Justice B.P. Singh and Mr Justice H.K. Sema said it was true that the Union Government had been exercising certain control over the activities of the Board in regard to organising cricket matches and travel of the Indian team abroad as also granting of permission to allow the foreign teams to come to India. But this control could not be construed as an administrative control, the Bench said and added, "at best this is purely regulatory in nature and the same according to this court in Pradeep Kumar Biswas's case, is not a factor indicating a pervasive State control of the Board."
Speaking for the majority, Mr Justice Hegde was of the view that the activities of the Board could be said to be akin to public duties or State functions. If there was violation of any constitutional or statutory obligation or rights of other citizens, the aggrieved party might not have a relief by way of a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution but have a remedy under the ordinary course of law, the Bench said.
Mr Justice Hegde pointed out that a seven-Judge Bench in Pradeep Kumar Biswas's case had laid down broad parameters for declaring an organisation as a `State'. "If we apply these principles, it would be clear that the facts established do not cumulatively show that the Board is financially, functionally or administratively dominated by or is under the control of the Government," he said.
Further, the bench noted that merely because a non-governmental body like the Board exercised some public duty, that by itself would not be sufficient to make such a body a `State' for the purpose of Article 12 of the Constitution.
The Bench said it would be relevant to note that 64 other national sports federations as well as some other bodies which represented India in the international forum in the fields of art, culture, beauty pageants, cultural activities, music and dance, science and technology or other such competitions would also have to be treated as a `State', opening the floodgates of litigation under Article 32.
Therefore, if the Board, which controlled the game of cricket, was to be held a `State' there was absolutely no reason why other similarly placed bodies should not be treated as a `State', the Bench said. "The fact that cricket is very popular in India also cannot be a ground to differentiate these bodies from the Board", the Bench said.
Citing the apex court judgment in the `Balco case', the Bench said "the State socio-economic policy of the Government of India has changed and the State is today distancing itself from commercial activities and concentrating on governance rather than business" and dismissed the petition filed by Zee Telefilms.
Sports channel ESPN had challenged in the Bombay High Court the award of telecast rights to Zee on the ground that they did not have the requisite two years' experience of covering live cricket matches which was required according to a clause in the tender. But after the BCCI cancelled the contract, the petition was withdrawn. The Bench said the appeal against this High Court order would be heard separately by an appropriate Bench.