By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) The perennially controversial Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) spent close to Rs.9 crore on litigation in the last two years alone. This was discussed at an Apex Council meeting on Sunday night, at which it was decided to disengage Counsels Ankur Chawla and Gautam Dutta with immediate effect, apparently with an aim to check the expenditure.
While the council took steps to control expenses on litigation, strangely it effectively stopped an ongoing forensic audit by the DDCA’s internal auditors – a move that is being questioned by a few members of the council — and decided to call for “open bids” to appoint a new forensic auditor in a “transparent manner”. The forensic audit was on for about a week, and was being done by ASA & Associates.
A forensic audit is a scientific evaluation of a firm’s or individual’s financial records to arrive at evidence that can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding
The council also decided to withdraw all vakalatnamas signed and issued by standing council Dutta, as per the decisions it has taken.
Eleven of the 18 council members, including three new Central government nominees, who met on Sunday evening were shocked to learn the exorbitant amounts spent on litigation since around July 2018. “Since July 2018, the DDCA has spent approximately Rs.9 crore over litigation, including the hiring of advocates and professionals. There has been little check on the legal expenditure,” a member of its Apex Council claimed while speaking to IANS.
However, the figure has for some strange reason not been mentioned in the minutes of Sunday’s meeting, chaired by Renu Khanna, wife of former DDCA general secretary Anil Khanna. Interestingly, all DDCA office-bearers have currently been suspended, either by its Ombudsman or the courts.
A new legal committee, headed by senior advocate Maninder Singh who was re-nominated by the Central government on the council this month, was formed to take all decisions pertaining to the DDCA’s legal matters, including appointment of counsels, authorised signatory, institution, and withdrawal of cases etc. Sunil Yadav and Rajni Abbi, the other new Central government nominees, are the other members of the legal committee.
“Resolved further that the approval of the Apex Council be and is hereby accorded to disengage and terminate engagements of all the advocates engaged and appointed by Mr Gautam Dutta [Standing Counsel and Legal Retainer] and Vinod Tihara [suspended DDCA secretary]. Consequently, Mr Ankur Chawla, shall also cease to be a counsel for DDCA and shall not represent DDCA before any forum, tribunal and/or court,” said the recorded minutes that IANS has accessed.
The council also re-appointed Saurabh Chadha as Standing Counsel cum Legal Retainer at what it called “reasonable retainer”, and on the same terms and conditions that were part of his agreement of two years ago. “Resolved further that the approval of the Apex Council be and is hereby accorded to re-engage and appoint Mr Saurabh Chadha, advocate, as Standing Counsel cum Legal Retainer, DDCA, with immediate effect on same terms and conditions as per his agreement dated 15.11.2018 with the DDCA,” read the minutes.
Chadha said the decisions of the council have come into effect. “All the changes have been implemented with immediate effect,” he told IANS.
The Apex Council members noted that Dutta’s actions were questionable. “It was observed that the actions of Mr. Gautam Dutta, advocate, are controversial and are not in the interest of the company. He has been engaging advocates on behalf of the company without any authorisation and instruction from the company. Money in form of huge fees is being drained without due process. There are several complaints from staff that he interferes in administrative and official matters despite claiming himself to be an independent professional. Since he has taken over as retainer, DDCA has incurred over [Rs.] 3.5. crores in legal expenses. His conduct is not in the interest of the DDCA,” it was recorded in the minutes.
Meanwhile, Sanjay Bhardwaj, an elected director on the apex council, termed Sunday’s meeting “illegal”. “This meeting was definitely illegal. And how can the three government nominees attend the meeting when their DIN numbers haven’t come? Also, they have stopped the forensic audit of the last two years – 2018-19 and 2019-20. Why?” Bhardwaj told IANS.
The apex council observed that money in form of huge fees is being “drained out of DDCA” without due process, and certain people have been issuing Vakalatnamas “without any authority and against the law”.
When contacted, Dutta gave a detailed rebuttal to the allegations levelled against him.
“In a way it’s good that they have attempted to remove me by resorting to gross illegality and in the process having exposed themselves. My ‘expose’ before the forensic audit currently under way in DDCA, for which I was appointed as coordinator by the Hon’ble Ombudsman [retired Supreme Court Judge Deepak Verma], would rock DDCA like never before and shall expose many ‘masked faces’ in the DDCA, hence these manoeuvres. The poor fellows had very little option left but to remove me. However, they forget that the ‘corrupt and corruption invariably leave indelible traces’ and no matter what I shall definitely expose the culprits of cricket,” Dutta told IANS.
Dutta alleged that the payment to lawyers was a ‘sham’.
“The allegation regarding payment of money to lawyers is a sham intended to distract focus from the issue of corruption by the members of the Apex Council involved in looting cricket’s money. Since the last AGM held in Dec 2018, each year more than Rs 3 crore were spent by the former president in ‘personal litigations’ and on political rivalry with the secretary. But no one talks about it. Interestingly, one of the government nominee directors now appointed, was the DDCA counsel fighting cases against the secretary and his law firm was paid huge sums. Hope we have not forgotten the Justice R.M. Lodha Committee reforms on conflict of interest norms, yet. Can the government nominee directors be used as a tool to run cricket in the DDCA? Surely not,” he said.
“The apex council meeting was per se illegal as it was attended by four directors who have already retired by rotation, the joint secretary is suspended by Ombudsman, but he has not challenged his suspension in any court, the three government nominee directors could not have attended the meeting without their formal induction as nominee director and even before their DIN was applied. All in all, it was a ‘show’ organised through remote control.”