HC dismisses Sports Ministry plea for modifying direction to inform court before recognising NSFs

The Delhi High Court Friday dismissed the Centre’s plea seeking modification of its order directing the Sports Ministry and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) not to take any decision on sports federations without informing the court.

A special bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Najmi Waziri said there was no error in its February 7, 2020 order which was being sought to be modified and added that if the ministry was aggrieved it can take appropriate legal recourse.

The bench said the application moved by the ministry is “virtually an appeal” and not a plea for a modification.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, appearing for the ministry, contended that the February 7 order was passed without hearing it.

He also argued that the government does not need the court’s permission before taking a decision with regard to grant of recognition to any National Sports Federation (NSF).

The ASG further said that while the ministry can go in appeal, it moved the application for modification “out of courtesy to the court”.

After hearing the ASG’s submissions, the bench said that pursuant to the February 7 direction the ministry had moved an application seeking permission of the court to grant provisional recognition to 57 NSFs.

Therefore, its argument that it was under the “bona fide impression” that the order was not applicable to it was “untenable”, it said.

“Even otherwise under the garb of the present application, the respondent 1 (ministry) was seeking review of the order dated February 7 which is not permissible. On merits too we do not see any error in the said order for acceding to the prayer made in the application. Application is dismissed,” the court said

The application was moved in the main petition filed in 2010 by advocate Rahul Mehra seeking directions to the Centre to ensure the IOA and the NSFs perform their duties, and to implement adequate guidelines and safeguards to ensure good administration of sports in the country.

During the hearing, Mehra urged the court to direct the Centre to state on affidavit that all the 57 NSFs in the country are complying with the National Sports Code.

On this aspect, the ASG sought time to get the details from the ministry and the bench listed the matter for hearing on August 21.

The ASG also said that the sports code was formulated by the ministry, which stood by it, and every NSF was bound to follow it.

However, some exceptions would be there when a relaxation would be granted to a particular NSF on the facts and circumstances of the case.

The court, thereafter, asked the ministry to also indicate in its affidavit the exercise carried out by it last year while granting provisional recognition to the 57 NSFs and to also point out the lapses, if any, on the part of any of these NSFs.

The ministry, in its application filed through central government standing counsel Anil Soni, has contended that the February 7 order virtually takes away its authority to deal with NSFs and obstructs its functioning and to such extent the direction is “ex-facie erroneous and contrary to law”.

“It is respectfully submitted that the aforementioned direction of the court has disabled the respondent 1 (ministry) from discharging its executive powers and functions as entrusted by the Constitution of India.

“It has virtually put the court in the shoes of the executive which is contrary to the very essence of the doctrine of separation of powers,” the application said.

The ministry has also said that since filing of the petition in 2010, it has issued guidelines, like notifying the Anti Doping Code and introducing annual recognition of NSFs, to improve management of the federations and sports in the country.

The ministry has also claimed to have issued guidelines to enforce age and tenure limit in respect of office bearers of NSFs.

Mehra, in response to the ministry’s earlier application for permission to grant provisional recognition to the 57 NSFs, has said that 11 out of them, including Cycling Federation, Indian Bodybuilders Federation, Kho-Kho Federation and Volley Ball Federation, have violated the sports code guidelines with regard to age restriction for office bearers.

Of the 57, 19 NSFs — including Chess, Equestrian and Handball Federations as well as National Rifle and Polo Associations — are in violation of the tenure norms, Mehra has said in his affidavit.

He has also said that 11 NSFs, including on Amateur Kabaddi, Boxing, Badminton, Hockey, Weightlifting and National Rifle Association, have complied with the eligibility requirements and nomination process for election of its members.

The 258-page affidavit also stated that 22 out of 57 NSFs have complied with the restrictions on who can vote and only 17 NSFs have expressly barred proxy voting.

The high court on July 3 had said that the practice of granting provisional recognition to NSFs in the country without ascertaining whether they are following the sports code cannot be allowed to go on.

The observation by the bench came while hearing a plea moved by the ministry seeking permission to grant provisional annual recognition to 57 NSFs so that they can commence training of sports persons for the Olympics next year.

The high court had also asked Mehra to indicate on affidavit which of the 57 NSFs were not adhering to the sports code and which are, so that provisional recognition may be granted to those complying with the code.

The high court on June 24 stayed the June 2 decision of the Sports Ministry to provisionally renew the annual recognition of the NSFs.