New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday grilled step-aside BCCI president N. Srinivasan on conflict of interest and said it was difficult for it to accept that the involvement of his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan - a team official of Chennai Super Kings - in betting during the IPL 2013 did not result in conflict of interest.
"Srinivasan is the vice chairman and managing director of India Cement Limited, an owner of IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings, your son-in-law is a team official and he is involved in betting. It is very difficult to accept the proposition that there is no conflict of interest," said the bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla.
"You are a contractor, and also the head of the contracting party. Is there no conflict?" the court asked counsel Kapil Sibal who appeared for Srinivasan.
"Your duty as BCCI head and the owner of CSK is pulling in different directions," it added.
The court said, "If you (Srinivasan) have a personal interest directly or indirectly, it involves conflict of interest. In such a situation, you should be above suspicion so as not to attract any allegation."
"There is a finding that your son-in-law is betting. Whatever implies to you also implies to your son-in-law who is indulging in betting," the court said.
"If purity of the game has to be maintained, (then) in that case as head of BCCI keep above the scope of any accusing finger pointing at one who is at the helm of affairs," it said.
"We are thinking in the larger interest of the game. We are thinking not to have a situation that has a likelihood of derailing the things," the bench said, pointing out that cricket was a passion or religion for the people of India.
The court's remark came as Sibal said only the acts committed by Srinivasan would result in action against Chennai Super Kings and the adverse consequences of betting activities of Meiyappan would not impact the IPL franchise.
"If he (Meiyappan) is a team official who is betting, would it not affect the team? Would not, in this situation, your team get disqualified," the court asked, following which Sibal said: "No, no. only if owner is involved (the team would get disqualified)."
In answer to another poser by the court whether Srinivasan's interest as BCCI head to act against CSK was not at variance with his interest as owner of the IPL franchise, Sibal said that in that situation, "I (Srinivasan) will step aside and that is what had happened when Jagmohan Dalmiya stepped in after I had stepped aside in the wake of allegations against Meiyappan".
"You will keep away," the court asked as Sibal in an attempt to reassure the court said: "Yes, that is what had happened. The taste of the pudding is in eating."
In response to another query by the bench that "If the court were to come to the conclusion that some part of your son-in-law's activities affects you, then what will happen," Sibal said: "BCCI will not stand in the way of anyone who has been accused of wrong-doing."
At the outset of the hearing, Sibal sought to impress upon the court that the conflict of interest was something that has been accepted globally as everyone was in some kind of conflict of interest and the test was "Have you at any given point of time perpetrated your interest?"
Apparently unpersuaded, the court said: "That (actual perpetration) is not the test. Likelihood of conflict of interest is the test. Likelihood of bias is the test. The conflict of interest that we are dealing with is the duty you (as the head of the BCCI) have to discharge and your personal interest (as owner of the CSK)."
Sibal sought to defend Srinivasan, saying a large number of other eminent people like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tandulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Anil Kumble were similarly placed in conflict of interest situation but he (Srinivasan) was being targeted as some people want to keep him outside the apex cricketing body.
Making distinction between commercial interest and what a professional gets paid for rendering professional services, the court said: "Those who invest money to earn money and those who give professional advice and get money (for it) are two different things."
The court was hearing a plea by the Cricket Association of Bihar seeking to keep Srinivasan out of BCCI on the grounds of conflict of interest and seeking the cancellation of IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings on the allegation of betting by Meiyappan.