| Beaten: Jagmohan Dalmiya
Chennai/Calcutta, March 21: In a moral ' but not monetary ' victory for Zee Telefilms, Madras High Court today called the cricket board's cancellation of telecast rights to the company 'improper and vitiated by arbitrariness and unfair action'.
The court was particularly harsh on Jagmohan Dalmiya, former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It said: 'There appears to be considerable force' in Zee's submission that Dalmiya was 'adversely disposed' towards it.
His approach was to 'somehow get rid of the petitioner (Zee) from the field and that he (Dalmiya) saw to it that in spite of being the highest bidder, the petitioner has been very cleverly deprived of the contract'.
In his 140-page judgment, Justice K. P. Sivasubramaniam, however, did not provide Zee what he said was 'positive relief' ' upholding the apparent grant of telecast rights to Zee by the BCCI. He expressed inability to do so as a letter of intent had not been issued to Zee handing it the rights to show all international matches for four years. The judge also pointed out that two of the series, Australia and South Africa, were already over.
But he said Zee had the option of suing 'the appropriate respondents (including the BCCI and Dalmiya) for damages' in a civil court.
Ashish Kaul, vice-president of Zee Telefilms, said whether or not Zee would seek damages was being discussed between 'key management people and the company's legal advisers' and would be decided in the next 24 hours.
Senior counsel for the BCCI, U.. Banerjee, said the board would comment 'only after seeing the full order'.
Zee had quoted the highest price for the four-year rights and even made an advance payment.
Its rival ESPN-STAR Sports, which was the second highest bidder, went to court, prompting the board to decide on re-bidding. In retaliation, Zee sought legal redress in Madras High Court.
The court said the cancellation of the tender process was 'unjust and illegal'.
But, in the changed circumstances, it saw no other option but to call for fresh tenders for telecast of future cricket series after the ongoing India-Pakistan matches were over. 'Both ESPN and Zee are entitled to take part.'
In its comments on the role of Dalmiya, the court said: 'It does not inspire confidence or reflect sufficient transparency or the expected level of ethics.'
Rejecting Dalmiya's contention that Zee had been given a chance to match the bid of ESPN, a quotation it had made in private to the BCCI after Zee had emerged the highest bidder through the official tender process, the judge said it was no more than a 'desperate exercise invented to buttress the glaring unfair attitude adopted against the petitioner (Zee)'.
'There can be no greater verdict to indicate that there was a collusion between Jagmohan Dalmiya and ESPN,' said Kaul.
Still, he said, Zee is keen on the telecast rights for the rest of the matches. 'Cricket gives the maximum number of eyeballs in India, and it's not about the money but restoring something to its rightful owner,' Kaul added.
Madras High Court also questioned the BCCI's motives in hiring the services of the international audit firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The judge asked how a firm of auditors 'would be competent or relevant to assess the technical eligibility of telecast rights of sports events'. He wanted to know if it was not ESPN-STAR's duty 'to disclose to the BCCI' that PwC was also its auditor.