Hearing a plea by international table tennis star Manika Batra aggrieved over her non-selection of the contingent being sent for the 25th ITTF Asian Table Tennis Championships, 2021 held in Doha from September 28 till October 4 the Delhi High Court today observed, "...I'm concerned that the player should not suffer, our country cannot afford players having to run around in courts and then going to face international Championships."
The plea also seeks quashing of rules mandating attendance at National Coaching Camps for selection in international events and an independent enquiry into a host of allegations by Batra against the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).
The Centre had earlier proposed to hold an enquiry into the matter of its own accord, which proposal was accepted by the bench of Justice Rekha Palli and an enquiry was carried out in furtherance thereof.
However, today counsel Sachin Datta for Batra told court, "The enquiry should be independent, an enquiry where due cross examination happens, not an enquiry where interviews are taken in absentia. Let an independent enquiry committee be constituted."
Batra also sought an administrator to be appointed to run TTFI stating that the "rot that runs in the Federation is so deep that an administrator is required."
She further pointed out that the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was conducting a parallel enquiry on the match-fixing issue brought up by her and instead prayed for a Court headed enquiry.
Counsel Sandeep Sethi appearing for TTFI requested Court for two days to get back on the issue, upon which a visibly perturbed court said, "Please don't take this lightly," and later warned TTFI of contempt.
It noted that while, "In purported compliance of the court's order, a report has been placed in a sealed cover," the peetitioner had submitted that "after the court passed an interim order on Sept 23, the respondent (TTFI) had approached the ITTF in an attempt to overreach the court."
The court said it would examine this aspect after the relevant correspondence allegedly sent by TTFI to ITTF is placed on record.
Responding, Sethi said, "The communication has infact come from the ITTF, we've only responded."
The court also warned Sethi that it would direct for some persons from TTFI to be brought before court and adjourned the matter.
The single judge bench had earlier directed the TTFI to place on record in a sealed cover, a copy of the communication sent by it to the ITTF in the Manika Batra case.
The court had temporarily stayed the "Rules and Regulations for National Camp" framed by the TTFI earlier.
It had also accepted the Government of India's proposal (GOI) to conduct an enquiry in the matter, stating that, "Since the Respondent No. 2 (GOI) has fairly volunteered to hold an enquiry into the serious allegations by the petitioner, this court is not inclined to order a separate enquiry at this stage."
However, directing that the enquiry may be held at the earliest, the court had granted the government 4 weeks' time to complete the same. Batra moved court not only challenging the said rules but also seeking to be included in the contingent for the Asian Table Tennis Championship.
Hearing the matter a Single Judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli had said to the counsel for TTFI, Adv. Hrishikesh Baruah, who ventured to explain the constitution of a committee to resolve Batra's complaint, "If this is the way our national sports are going to function, I'm sorry to say the Government might as well take over."
The court had expressed its disappointment on TTFI's handling of the matter wherein it had constituted a committee right after court's intervention on Batra's plea and stated, "I'm not going to compromise merit on this, because of your politics."
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma appearing for the Centre, on instructions, had submitted that merit had to be the sole criteria for selection of candidates and that attending or not attending a camp would not deter India from sending it's best athletes forward.
"My stand is very clear. Merit was, merit is, merit shall and merit has to be the sole criteria," Sharma submitted.
However, while the ASG had said that there is "nothing in the Sports Code which permits
them to bar a candidate and to say that if you don't attend a camp, you'll be left out", Baruah maintained that the Federation was merely acting in compliance with the rules in the National Sports Code.
Baruah had said, "We wanted her to come, we wanted her to participate but there are rules in place. There is a National Sports Code which we have to abide by. They (Union Government) are the ones telling us to comply."
The court had also noted that Batra had made a representation and detailed complaint to TTFI regarding her position and apprehensions of conduct by the coach, however, was later shocked to receive a show cause notice.
The bench had taken note of the fact that Batra had also reiterated the issue of match fixing national tactics in her representation after which she was "directed to attend a national camp scheduled to be held at a local school."
Cause Title: Manika Batra vs Table Tennis Federation of India & Ors.
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