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BCCI officials & IPL petitioner shocked after committee investigating Rahul Johri case lays down deposition rule

The three-member independent panel — Justice (Retd) Rakesh Sharma, Barkha Singh and Veena Gowda — constituted by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) to probe allegations of sexual harassment against Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) CEO Rahul Johri has laid down the rules for anyone wishing to depose in front of the committee. They have made it clear that anyone wishing to depose must first establish their own position and how they are connected in the matter before the panel decides whether the person gets an opportunity to meet the panel.

This comes after IPL petitioner Aditya Verma wanted to depose in front of the committee. Not only has the three-member panel made it clear that those willing to depose must first clarify their locus standi, but also should provide ample details of what he/she wants to reveal during the deposition. This has taken senior BCCI officials by surprise as they feel that this will make the victims wary of approaching the committee.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, a senior BCCI official said that the current situation was anything but shocking and this committee seems to be unaware of the sensitivity that comes with cases of sexual harassment.

“The attitude of the inquiry committee is shocking to say the least. Are they oblivious of the judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court regarding the BCCI? Are they unaware of the intent of the Courts and the Parliament with regard to sexual harassment and the sensitivity with which such cases should be handled? The message is clear.

“First one member of the CoA publicly makes a statement to demonstrate that Johri will have support, then a committee is constituted surreptitiously and a member was friends with a member of the CoA and had a conflict and the minutes of the meeting where this was constituted is not put up on the BCCI website, then this communication by the committee that is overtly hostile towards anyone wishing to give them information about Johri,” he rued.

Another BCCI official echoed the sentiments and said that the committee is already making all the wrong noises and trust is becoming an issue for those looking for justice.

“I am sorry but this has completely eroded any faith someone could have had in this committee. I see this going to the Supreme Court because this committee is clearly a facade created to save Johri and make the girls feel inadequate and intimidated,” he said.

In Verma’s reply to the committee chief Justice Sharma, accessed by Hindustan Times, the IPL petitioner has questioned the move of asking for bona fides of those wanting to depose in front of the committee. He has also questioned why Veena Gowda wasn’t marked in the mail sent to him and his lawyer.

“I am in receipt of your email dated 07.11.2018 and am a little surprised at the content of your email. The fact that one member of the committee has not been marked a copy on the email is also surprising. This committee needs to appreciate the fact that the principle of locus standi does not stand the test of public interest. In the case of BCCI which is a body that performs some public functions, the organisation cannot hide behind the veil of locus standi, especially in the case where their top functionary is accused of sexual harassment or worse,” he wrote.

Verma has also questioned how exactly the committee plans to function and if having Johri’s own team members acting as point of contacts will have any effect in the investigation. Also, if the victim can feel safe considering that Johri can use his position to get details of the meetings planned.

“As far as this committee is concerned, it is a positive step that there is a separate email account created for this but we don’t know who will have access to these emails. Will it be Karina Kripalani? She reports directly to Rahul Johri. What will be the role of Nirmal Kaur? As per the Press Release, she is required to make logistics arrangement and is the one-point contact. Nirmal goes to meet Rahul Johri every day. She is his secretary or executive assistant. She takes all the documents for signing to him every day and obtains his approvals. She will be his secretary even after this committee is dissolved and after the CoA is dissolved.

“What is the exact message that we are supposed to get from this arrangement is something the committee needs to consider. If a complainant is to travel to a location to depose against Rahul Johri and the arrangements for that are made by his secretary, even the complainant’s friends will be worried about her/his well-being. How can one discount this state of affairs?” he enquired.

Verma went on to add that with the Supreme Court making it clear that people above the age of 70 cannot be a part of any BCCI committee, the move to have Justice Sharma head the committee does come as a surprise, especially since one of the CoA members – Diana Edulji – wasn’t too keen on an investigation and wanted the immediate removal of Johri.

“If the members of the committee do not wish to hear someone, it is the prerogative of the committee, however, I would respectfully like to point out that any decision of this committee, whether this committee is validly constituted or not, whether this committee has the authority to probe this matter or not, would be a decision that could be challenged before the Courts.

“I would respectfully like to submit that since the Chairman of the Committee is over the age of 70 years, his appointment and continuance in this position is a direct violation of the Judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 09.08.2018. Therefore, It would be a pertinent question as to why did the chairman accept this position and why is the chairman continuing in this position.

“What is it exactly that this committee is required to do? It has been set up under which rule or law? How were the names finalized? Who decided about the quantum of the remuneration of the committee and how? If one person of the two-member committee decided to form this committee then what is the validity of the committee? Can this committee truly be a committee constituted by the CoA of the BCCI?” he enquired.

He signed off by asking if this committee will ask the BCCI employee allegedly harassed to come and depose or will they wait for her to come forward because Verma fears that not many would be willing to come forward on their own after seeing the committee’s approach towards the IPL petitioner.

“Given your approach communicated to me, will someone even want to risk making allegations against a powerful man? Will the news reports be discounted and no one will question the news reports? How will the committee verify that ‘all’ material at the BCCI has been placed before the committee? How will the committee verify whether Rahul Johri had written an apology in such a matter? Will the committee call the lady employee of the BCCI who has been in the centre of the issue or will the committee wait for that person only to come and depose before you? What if she is scared to come because she worries about consequences later?” he enquired.

First Published: Nov 09, 2018 16:08 IST

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