A day after taking shelter under former Sports Minister Uma Bharati's fiat on the Indian Hockey Federation controversy, the Centre on Wednesday did a near volte-face, saying that the minister's successor, Vikram Verma, had ordered that the issue of a maximum eight-year term for office-bearers of sports bodies be examined in "totality".
In an additional affidavit filed in the court, the Sports Ministry disclosed that Bharati's note, dated August 24, 2002, was put up before Verma, who on October 31, 2002 recorded that piecemeal decisions were not required and that the issues needed to be examined in totality.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P P Mahotra insisted that the "order" to keep in abeyance the particular clause on limiting the tenure of sports body office-bearers to a maximum of two terms of four years each was still in operation.
Interestingly, the affidavit said, at present, while releasing assistance to National Sports Federations, the stipulation limiting the tenure of office-bearers "is not being insisted upon by the Government in the interest of sportspersons".
IHF senior vice-president Narinder Batra's counsel, Maninder Singh, pointed out that the alleged order of Bharati was nothing but a mere noting on the file and the same was clear from the further noting made by her successor, Verma.
He insisted that the 1975 guidelines, revised in 2001, are still in operation and no office-bearer of a sports body could hold office for more than eight years.
He also pointed out that the Centre has not said on any other forum that the tenure limiting clause of the guidelines had been ordered to be kept in abeyance. The court asked Singh to file his counter affidavit in reply to the Sports Ministry's additional affidavit by Thursday, when hearing resumes.
Batra has sought quashing of the election of IHF president K P S Gill and secretary K Jothikumaran.
The petitioner alleged financial irregularities and failure of the two officials to comply with the ministry's guidelines of not being in office for over eight years.
Accusing Gill of running federation in an autocratic manner, he urged the court not to allow the duo to participate in the IHF elections.
Batra had submitted that after filing of his writ petition he was served with certain documents about the AGM for holding of election of office-bearers and that the minutes of the earlier meeting had been changed.
Justice Gita Mittal, who has already issued notices to the Ministry, IHF, Gill and Jothikumaran on Batra's petition, is likely to decide Batra's plea against advancing the IHF election before May 23, when the same is scheduled for.
Earlier, the Centre had told the court that it has no jurisdiction to frame any law on matters relating to sports and the guidelines issued by it do not have legislative backing for strict enforcement.
However, Batra's counsel countered the Centre's stand, saying it was competent to legislate in the area of sports and regulate the national federations.
Government guidelines -- Assistance to National Sports Federations' (NSFs) -- have legal sanction and binding upon the federations as the Centre gives grant to the national body and could regulate the funds, he had submitted.
In its affidavit, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had said that "sports" figures in the "State List" of the Constitution as Item Number 33 and the Centre has no jurisdiction to legislate on any matter relating to it.