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March 7 clock ticks in court

New Delhi, Feb. 10: The focus is now on the Supreme Court’s March 7 hearing after a probe panel it had appointed struck a staggering blow to Board of Control for Cricket in India president Narayanswamy Srinivasan today.

It said Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan had bet on IPL matches and, contrary to the Indian cricket chief’s claims, was a Chennai Super Kings team official if not the “de facto owner”.

Srinivasan is managing director of India Cements, which owns the Super Kings, and had earlier claimed that Gurunath was just a “young (cricket) enthusiast” associated with the franchise.

The panel’s indictment raises questions on the future of the Super Kings, for the franchise agreement allows termination if any action by a franchisee, franchisee group company and/or owner affects the reputation of the league, BCCI or the game of cricket.

The panel said Gurunath had flouted IPL codes relating to “bringing the game in disrepute” and that, by failing to ensure his compliance, the Chennai franchise too had violated league rules and the franchise agreement.

It’s up to the IPL authorities, who are an integral part of the BCCI, though, to decide whether to take disciplinary action and whether to punish the entire team or only the individual concerned, and how.

The Supreme Court is expected to pass orders on the three-member panel’s report at the next hearing, on March 7. Sources said the court had two options:

To frame guidelines to prevent betting or fixing;

To order a special investigation team to conduct a further probe into the charges of criminality and underworld links on the basis of reports by the police of various states such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Rajasthan.

“We will examine the issue and pass orders,” said the bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and J.S. Kehar that had appointed the panel headed by former Punjab and Haryana chief justice Mukul Mudgal and including additional solicitor-general N. Nageswar Rao and Assam Cricket Association member Nilay Dutta.

“In the meantime, if you want, you can file your response,” Justice Patnaik told the counsel for the BCCI, Super Kings and fellow franchise Rajasthan Royals, whose part-owner Raj Kundra is accused of betting and fixing.

The panel said the fixing allegations against Gurunath, who had been arrested last year, needed further inquiry.

It said the BCCI, world body ICC’s anti-corruption unit and Chennai police had failed to thoroughly investigate the fixing charges despite having information, and that the “information” provided by Mumbai police were not conclusive.

It added that the conflict-of-interest charges arising from Srinivasan heading both the BCCI and the company that owns the Super Kings were “serious” and drew the court’s attention to it.