Virbhadra caught on sticky wicket

    By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

    Shimla : Caught on a sticky wicket, the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government has thrown in the towel in its “match” against BJP MP Anurag Thakur-administered Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA).

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    Political observers say the cabinet’s decision earlier this week to backtrack on its earlier order to cancel all land leases of the HPCA is more a face-saving exercise. The decision also saves the government from embarrassment in view of the high court indicting it Nov 5 for forcibly evicting the HPCA from its stadia, principally the picturesque Dharamsala stadium, an observer said.

    The cabinet Monday withdrew its Oct 26 decision to cancel the land leased to the HPCA and take over its assets.

    The lease was cancelled on the plea that the HPCA has violated the terms and conditions by converting itself from a society to a company without informing the government.

    Accusing the government of tarnishing the HPCA’s image, state BJP president Satpal Satti said such rash and ill-thought out decisions had only embarrassed the government.

    “The decision to control the HPCA properties was taken in haste. It was at the behest of two-three ministers and some officials who want to grab the HPCA properties,” Satti said in a statement.

    “Despite the advice of legal experts of following the due procedure of first issuing a notice to the HPCA, the cabinet decision to cancel all land leases in one go has conveyed a wrong message,” admitted a cabinet minister who didn’t wish to be identified.

    He said the revenue department is now reviewing each land lease case afresh. The government might enact a law to regulate the functioning of all sports bodies, he added.

    The Congress had earlier enacted the Himachal Pradesh Sports (Registration and Regulation of Association) Act in 2006, but this was repealed by the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP regime that came to power in 2008.

    It’s common knowledge in political circles that Virbhadra Singh, who was chief minister for over 16 years and is known as a tough taskmaster, has lost his political acumen owing to his advancing age.

    A day after the high court ordered restoration of the status quo ante as on Oct 26, when the state forcibly took over HPCA assets overnight, the government clarified it had no intention of taking control of sports bodies.

    “At the same time, the government wants to ensure that sports bodies do not become the private property of any individual or their vested interests,” Industries Minister Mukesh Agnihotri has said.

    There were numerous complaints against the functioning of the HPCA and these were being independently looked into by different agencies, Agnihotri said.

    The hard-hitting order followed a writ petition from the HPCA arguing that the government’s action was politically motivated and could derail national and state matches from being played in Dharamsala.

    The court will now hear the matter Nov 28.

    (Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])