The three-member independent panel, which has been constituted by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) to look into the sexual harassment allegation against BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, has laid down rules for deposing in front of it. This one act has shocked many. Here's why.
The committee, led by former Allahabad High Court judge Justice (Retd) Rakesh Sharma, former Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Barkha Singh and lawyer Veena Gowda, has made it clear that anyone wishing to depose before them must first establish their own position and how they are connected in the allegations against Johri. Only after this, the panel will decide whether the individual gets to meet it or not, reported the Hindustan Times.
When IPL petitioner Aditya Verma wanted to depose in front of the committee, not only was he told that those willing to depose must clarify their locus standi, but also told he must provide details during the deposition.
The move has reportedly taken senior BCCI officials by surprise as they feel that it would make the victims wary of approaching the committee.
A senior board official, who refused to be named, said that the committee was unaware of the sensitivity regarding sexual harassment cases.
“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 upon the BCCI website, then this communication by the committee that is overtly hostile towards anyone wishing to give them information about Johri,” the official said.
Another BCCI official too added that trust was becoming an issue for those looking for justice against Johri.
“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.
Aditya Verma had questioned the move of asking for bona fides of those wanting to depose in front of the three-member panel committee while raising the issue of Veena Gowda not being marked in the mail sent to him and his lawyer by the independent panel.
“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.
He had already questioned how exactly the committee was planning to function, while also questioning whether having Johri’s own team members acting as the point of contacts would have any effect in the investigation.
He also wanted to know if the victim could feel safe considering that Johri can use his position to influence the probe.
“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?” Verma enquired.
The IPL spot-fixing case petitioner also added that with the Supreme Court making it clear that people above 70 could not be a part of any BCCI committee, Justice Sharma's appointment as the committee head came as a surprise. He also cited that CoA member Diana Edulji wanted Johri's immediate removal.
“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," Verma said.
“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 added.
The board has already submitted relevant documents to the three-member panel on the case.
Johri also replied to the CoA's show-cause notice, denying all allegations levelled against him.
"The BCCI submitted the relevant documents in their possession to the committee. The Committee shall hear and scrutinise the material before it for the next two days," a BCCI release on November 2 stated.
The panel is slated to meet on November 10 and 11, where it will scrutinise information brought under its notice.
Former India skipper and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president Sourav Ganguly too expressed fear and said that he didn't know where Indian cricket was headed, with the way Johri's case is being handled.
The board's acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary too hit out at the CoA chief Vinod Rai for the mannner in which he has handled the whole matter. Choudhary said Rai's decision to form a panel to probe the allegations against Johri might not have received unanimous approval.
The sexual harassment allegations against the BCCI CEO came up last month under the #MeToo movement.
A anonymous twitter user had accused Johri, who was the Executive Vice President and General Manager-South Asia for Discovery Networks Asia Pacific before he joined the BCCI in 2016, of misbehaving with a woman, who claims to be a journalist.
The detailed account of the woman, who wants to remain anonymous, was shared by author Harnidh Kaur on her Twitter handle.
(With Inputs from ENS and Agencies)