The Commonwealth Games, the hard facts and some holy cows

If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are a few more episodes that show that our ‘sporting bodies’ will never, ever, bow down to the law of the land

First, a re-clarification: This is an article which refers to a legal judgement. In no way is it a comment on the judgement.

In the last article (http://moneylife.in/article/78/7882.html), we spoke on how we had filed a very simple Right to Information (RTI) application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of the 'dancing expenses' in Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006.

There we were, with a Chief Information Commission's judgement in our favour, but no information coming our way. Instead, we got veiled hints, sugar-coated threats through 'well-wishers', made all the more impressive because your correspondent used to work out of Pune and Delhi in those days. And Pune was where the favourite of the Gods really had his strengths - he simply was the permanent man from that city. And nobody, but nobody, messed with him there. Also, for the purposes of this article, it is not at all smart to even dream of making fun of anything legal. Though I do have friends who are lawyers who are riots otherwise, when not wearing black and white, or collars.
 
So then one day a huge big manila yellow legal envelope landed up on my doorstep. It gave me a backache, it was so heavy, because of which I also started wearing reading glasses subsequently. A few hundred pages of legal jargon, typed in that particularly interesting double spacing, with a lot of big words. I was now a Respondent in 'Indian Olympics Association versus Veeresh Malik & others'. The others appeared to be the might of the Indian government, which would scare a lot of people, except me because I grew up as a young boy at an address known as 1, Cemetery Road, which has had a marked impression on me throughout - that's also where some of us learnt how to play a version of golf. At night. So, with more bravery than sense, and without a clue, I turned to the good friend lawyer who had promised me help, and was amazed at the casual way with which he handled the big envelope. Just come back to sign things in a few days and don't worry, is what he said. He never grew up sharing a common wall with a cemetery. And he had a lot of similar-looking huge envelopes in his office, too.
 
Meanwhile, the judgement from the Chief Information Commission on the subject became a landmark one, being cited by many more applicants demanding information from a variety of 'public authorities' as diverse as schools, more sports associations, and others. My name started bouncing off the Internet like flubber, and the postman was impressed by the amount of Government of India mail I was getting, he thought I might be a spy. I started being approached by the media, but because the case was still in court, I stayed away. My dear friend and RTI guru, Prakash Kardaley, died very suddenly in Pune - which left me very upset, to say the least, but made me determined at the same time to proceed ahead - though with a lot of caution. (As a matter of record, I have not filed a single RTI application in my own name after that date, choosing to guide others instead. Sometimes these people are kind enough to file my RTI applications in their names for me).
 
The case itself meandered its way; at one stage all the other respondents (the ministry, the sports authority and the Chief Information Commission) were taking their own stands. Some supported the CIC judgement, and some challenged it, and we, of course, demanded that we simply be given the information. The actress became an even bigger star, top and bottom, also middle. At one point in the course of the trial it appeared as though everybody was suddenly not keen to press for the information - which itself was losing relevance because of the passage of time. And meanwhile, some other cases got tagged on with ours at the Honourable Delhi High Court on similar grounds, but I found that my name was always announced first. Boy, did that sound grand!!
 
But what stuck out was the continued reluctance on the part of the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers to agree that they were liable to the people of India under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Maybe they were under the impression that they were foreigners, and nobody had told them that India went independent in 1947, and the Queen had left. The point we tried to make was that fine, some amount of commercial secrecy and internal working may be essential, but post facto audited accounts were certainly our right - especially when over 90%-95% of the income and expenses came straight from government funds. (The rest also came the same way, but could be debated, as there were PSUs, State governments, grants and other such fine financial terms involved).
 
At around that time, the minister for sports changed. The quiet but resolute MS Gill replaced the voluble MS Aiyar. But as though by magic, suddenly, really suddenly, the tone of the approach from the ministry of sports changed. All of a sudden they too wanted that the RTI Act to be implemented and made applicable on the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers. And everybody else who had ever taken even a badminton shuttlecock from them without returning it.
 
The case went on, arguments, trials, responses and counter-replies. The Delhi High Court is air-conditioned and an impressive place. After a while I felt that there were some people who came there to listen to the arguments like others would attend seminars and conferences and debates. Even police officers have to walk carefully here, it seems. I have a friend who is a cop who told me bitterly that they didn't allow him to bring his mobile phone and wireless in and when he retired he said he was going to become a lawyer so that he could do so.
 
And then one day in April 2009, from the hallowed heights above, the judgement was decided. And immediately reserved. To be announced, finally, on the 7th of January 2010. Details can be found here:
 
http://indiankanoon.org/doc/455579/
 
Frankly, I still haven't received the information I asked for, and that's hardly relevant anymore. Fact is, all the information pertaining to the Indian Olympics Association, now has to be in the public domain, and the disclosures are falling out of the cupboards thick and fast. Whether the mainstream media will ever get into the depth of the matter, like trying to investigate how the people who run the IOA and CWG like personal fiefdoms managed to do whatever they've done, or not, is another aspect. The role of some powerful and often controversial godmen is also not being even speculated on, and the businesses they control through these people, though the truths are known even to the poorest man on the street in Pune - and beyond.
 
The judgement itself is being referred to as "landmark", for which I am grateful, though it is the judge and the legal system that did all the hard work. Here are some of my favourite parts:
 
"As our society progresses, its goals of achieving equality, social justice and furthering democratic principles remain constant; indeed, current levels of wealth disparities underline the criticality of achieving those goals for all citizens as an urgent objective.
 
"Today the Government, in a welfare State, is the regulator and dispenser of special services and provider of a large number of benefits. The valuables dispensed by Government take many forms, but they all share one characteristic. They are steadily taking the place of traditional forms of wealth. These valuables which derive from relationships to Government are of many kinds: leases, licenses, contracts and so forth. With the increasing magnitude and range of governmental functions as we move closer to a welfare State, more and more of our wealth consists of these new forms. Some of these forms of wealth may be in the nature of legal rights but the large majority of them are in the nature of privileges.
"A body is performing a "public function" when it seeks to achieve some collective benefit for the public or a section of the public and is accepted by the public or that section of the public as having authority to do so. Bodies therefore exercise public functions when they intervene or participate in social or economic affairs in the public interest.

The last one is very important when referring to some of the new activities carried out by entities claiming to be "privatised" but in effect performing roles of public authorities. More on that in another article on payment-processing systems.

(This is the final and concluding part of the series). 

Related Stories:
The Commonwealth Games learns that the truth is always in the numbers

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