Secret audio recorders, hidden cameras, mobile forensic equipment, high-resolution binoculars.
These terms are from the shopping list that the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or BCCI, may now be gearing up to acquire from around the world – ostensibly to “fix the fixers”.
Or this is what it seems after a presentation made by none other than the Indian Cricket Board’s chief executive officer, Hemang Amin, during the annual general meeting in Kolkata on December 4.
Amin was obviously not reading any of his own reports. He was only putting forth what was being suggested – or demanded – by Shabir Hussein Shekhadam Khandwawala, a former director-general of the Gujarat police and the current chief of the BCCI’s anti-corruption security unit (ACU or ACSU).
Shabir, a 1973 batch IPS officer, was appointed to the post earlier this year, ahead of the IPL beginning April 9. He succeeded Ajit Singh, whose term ended on March 31.
Shabir’s report was part of the “agenda papers sent by the secretary’s office” where, under the heading “enhancing technical capabilities” of the ACSU, he asked for various tools to strengthen his unit.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah is instrumental in appointing Shabir. Apparently no applications were invited for the post. Shabir was taken in even when he had cleared the age limit of 70, as mandated by none other than the Supreme Court of India.
In the past, the BCCI has always advertised for any post – including that of the ACSU chief. But because of junior Shah’s tight grip over the world’s richest cricket board, no member state association or official has, until now, raised the issue in any official meeting.
What does it mean?
There is no clarity so far as to whether or not the BCCI has given the go-ahead to Shabir’s suggestions to check the fixing menace in cricket. But some top officials told this writer that “they have stopped talking about any official matter on their mobile phones ever since a report by an independent media organisation has come up with the phone number of the current chief of Bihar Cricket Association, Rakesh Tiwary, as one of those allegedly snooped using controversial Pegasus spyware.”
“The current ACSU chief is from the same school of police where snooping was a regular affair during his term as police commissioner,” said a senior BCCI official. “I’m not surprised if he applies the same tried and tested snooping equipment here also in cricket.”
It’s important to mention here that BCA chief Tiwary is close to the BJP inner circles, and his association with key BCCI officials is not hidden from anyone. The leaked database, accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and other global media partners, contains details of 50,000 telephone numbers of individuals around the world, selected as persons of interest by different government agencies that have used, or are using, Pegasus spyware.
Tiwary took over as president of the BCA on September 29, 2019, amidst a controversy where his secretary Sanjay Kumar wrote to the BCCI that the former is ineligible to contest the election itself.
But despite the complaints, Tiwary not only continued in his position but also conducted an “unapproved” T20 Bihar Cricket League between March 20 and 26 this year amidst the second wave of the Covid pandemic. There were many allegations of match-fixing during this team, and Hemang Amin, who was acting CEO at the time, was forced to send the BCA a letter instructing it to cancel the league because it had not been sanctioned by the board.
Tiwary, however, went ahead with the tournament. And no action was taken against him or the BCA to date.
No transparency in functioning
Of course, there is absolutely no possibility that a Pegasus-like spyware could be made available to the BCCI, as NSO, the company that makes Pegasus, insists that it only sells it to carefully vetted governments. But the BCCI officials, especially those not in sync with the present set of administrators (read junior Shah or union sports minister Anurag Thakur group) are worried that surveillance could well be done against them to crush the opposition in the board.
“Both secretary [Shah] and president [Sourav Ganguly] should have been disqualified long back going by the Supreme Court order regarding the tenure,” said a former president of a state association, who had to resign following the apex court’s ruling in 2016.
As per the BCCI constitution, the ACSU mandate is to look into the cases involving the threats to the game. This includes supervision, investigation, working with the various state police, and ensuring preventive measures in the safe conduct of the cricket tournaments in India.
Though the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Lodha panel recommended that “betting should be legalised in India”, the BCCI’s ACSU chief has a contrarian view in this regard. Soon after joining the BCCI, Shabir that he “doesn’t want betting to be legalised in India”.
Among the people to have suggested legalising betting in a bid to control corruption was Ajit Singh, Shabir’s predecessor. But the new boss felt otherwise.
When contacted, no one in the BCCI – including the CEO, who did not respond to phone calls – is ready to comment on this contentious issue.
Everyone in the board is tight-lipped over this demand by the ACSU chief. And no one has a clue on whether or not this demand has been accepted by the top bosses of the BCCI because there is hardly any information now being leaked out of the secretary’s office.
Further, it has been learnt that even the accounts were made available to all the members only at 9 am on the day of the AGM, three hours before the meeting at noon. This is even though accounts were passed in the BCCI’s Apex Council a day earlier. The practice in the past was to distribute the financial report to all members at least 15 days in advance, after the finance committee meeting.
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