Indian History
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How a court case changed the way we see Cricket in India.

Featured Image: Photo by Mudassir Ali on Unsplash

The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) started on September 19, 2020. The tournament, which began in 2008, has revolutionized the way people watch and imagine Cricket. The current edition, undergoing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is viewed by 200 million people worldwide. 

The Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) has a conspicuous influence on the International Cricket Council (ICC) today. The extent of this bullish influence is such that BCCI can play a substantial hand in organizing ICC tournaments so that it falls within the comfortable Indian timezones to increase the viewership. 

However, this was not always the case. I was born in the late 80s, the era in which Cricket became the most popular sport in India. Partially because of India’s unexpected win at the 1983 World Cup final and somewhat because a young kid named Sachin Tendulkar took the entire cricketing world by the storm. However, despite the heroics, the reach of Cricket was insignificant in India. Back then, there was just one broadcast channel, the Doordarshan(DD), which could dedicate a total of 30 minutes as a rundown to all the sports activities happening across the planet. 

The other alternate, If India was playing overseas, was free to air BBC radio, which, during that time, was the only source for live scores. My first encounter with the world of Cricket was the 1992 cricket world cup, which was jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. 

I remember my father reading the final scores and results of our local daily the next day, nearly 20 hours after the game. That is why it came as an utter surprise to read that a young Batsman named Inzamam Ul-Haq has scored 60 runs off 37 balls to help Pakistan reached the final, beating the host New Zealand. This score, which looks pretty standard in the T20 era, was a remarkable feat during that time. I finally saw Inzamam’s inning on DailyMotion in 2005, 13 years after the game. 

After the 1992 world cup, everything changed drastically in the coming years, and the pivotal moment was a court case between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Vs. Cricket Association of Bengal in 1995. But before getting to that point in history, let us take a few steps back to understand India of the early 90s. The Indian economy was crawling at a slow pace and debt-ridden before the reforms made during 1991. 

That was the first time in history that nearly a billion people opened to a world of possibilities. This revolution brushed off to every sector of society. Coca-Cola made a re-entry in the Indian market, cars such as Toyota and Suzuki entered the automotive industry, and of course, Hollywood made its way. Stephen Spielberg’s Jurrasic Park became the first Hollywood film for many young kids from my generation. 

The TV broadcast, however, was evolving at a much pitifuller pace. Established in 1959, DD was the only free to air channel in India. In 25 years, the national broadcaster just added just one more station, DD-Metro. The DD2 or DD-Metro, as it came to be known popularly got established in 1984, but till 1993, it had coverage just across a few bigger cities of the country. The challenge with the state-owned television channels was to broadcast live events. Any live event around the world, be it The academy awards, Oscars, or even the Football world cup, had to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast to telecast it to the Indian TV sets. 

DD or Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) would own the broadcast and decide when and how to play it, which means that the ministry can also choose not to show a live event then but run a recording later. Furthermore, the agency had full right to allow or disallow foreign telecast rights and bring in foreign agencies to cover the game via a live telecast. 

The 1993 Hero cup was one of the major tournaments played in India. The mighty West Indies (WI) team and three other Cricket playing nations were visiting the Indian soil and playing one-day International games. The tournament would be the first time that these foreign players and reporters would witness how the gentleman’s game has crossed over to become a popular sport. India, who were not the favorites in the tournament, did a turn around in the finals to defeat WI. To this day, it remains a memorable win. 

India Vs WI at Hero Cup 1993. Image courtsey: Sportstar.Hindu.Com

However, the tournament’s reach was quite limited because of the restrictions, which caused a wave of disappointment across the overall cricketing community. Despite that, the world saw potential India could bring for the cricketing world, and therefore, India, along with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was offered to be the host nations of the World Cup 1996. 

At that onset, Jagmohan Dalmiya, then president of Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), along with BCCI, approached the courts seeking a license to telecast their matches through an agency of their choice – a foreign agency in this case – and through telecasting equipment brought in by such foreign agency from outside the country. Citing Article 19(A) of the Indian Constitution, CAB & BCCI plead that the authorities are bound to grant such license/ permission, without any conditions. All that they are entitled to do is to collect technical fees against their services. 

Furthermore, the argument made was that Airwaves constitute public property, and the State must see that airwaves are so utilized to advance the citizens’ free speech rights. This is imperative in every democracy where freedom of speech is assured. 

On February 02, 1995, the supreme court of India gave a 103 pager. Judgment, which had nearly 205 different sections and references from various cases around the subject. The Judgement was taken by a bench of 3 supreme court judges, namely P.B Sawant, S Mohan, and B.P Jeevan Reddy. The Judgement, though, supported the claim of free speech and government monopoly of broadcasting media, citing that “for ensuring the free speech right of the citizens of this country, it is necessary that the citizens have the benefit of a plurality of views and a range of opinions on all public issues.” and “private broadcasting stations may perhaps be more prejudicial to free speech right of the citizens than the government-controlled media” respectively. 

However, the panel also informed BCCI & CAB that the petitioners’ request, which in effect is no different in requesting to establish and operate a private TV station, has no direct connection with Article 19(A). Therefore, whether the right to develop a private TV station should be given to this country’s citizens is a matter of policy for the Parliament and not the courts. 

The Judgement did not provide a direct win for the petitioners in the case but paved the way for a massive policy change, which was THE CABLE TELEVISION NETWORKS (REGULATION) ACT, 1995 came a month after this judgment. This act made the way to start of the private channels race in the country. 

Cricket, therefore, was out from the shackles of the state-owned media, and for the first time, Private & foreign TV channels could broadcast the rise of Indian Cricket around the world. 

The 1996 Cricket World Cup became one of the most significant televised events in the country then. The tournament was held in 17 different locations with an in-field capacity of 7.25 million people and another thousands and millions at home. India lost to SriLanka in the semi-finals raging an uproar in the stadium, causing the match to be canceled. A million sitting at home, including me, cried themselves to sleep. The underdogs Sri Lanka went on to upset the mighty Australians to win a historical final at Lahore. 

Security forces escorting the SriLankan Cricket team at Eden Gardens, Kolkata

BCCI never looked back from this tournament, rising to the international cricket arena and challenging England and Australia’s boards for equal power. Jagmohan Dalmiya would become the center of Indian Cricket again when he became the president in 2001 and reformed the game post the match-fixing scandal of 1999-2000. Nearly 25 years after the tournament, Cricket in India stays the most popular game, and cricketers continue to be treated like Gods.

The 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup played in England and Wales is the highest watched ICC event with live coverage reached a global cumulative average audience of 1.6 billion viewers. The most-watched match of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 globally was India against Pakistan, with 273 million unique viewers tuning into linear TV coverage with over additional 50 million digital-only viewers. Take that super-bowl Sunday. 

And to think of it, it all started in a courtroom at Tilak Marg, Mandi House, New Delhi. 

Citations from the case provided by IndianKanoon.Org

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