Zee Telefilms Ltd v. Union of India is a 2005 constitutional law case before the honorable Supreme court of India concerning the interpretation of the meaning of “state” under Article 12 of the Indian constitution and its applicability to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
- Zee Telefilms, the petitioners, in this case, is a world-renowned sports channel. The respondents include the Union of India; BCCI, the regulating body for Cricket in India; ESPN, another world-renowned sports channel based out of the US.
- On 7th August 2004, BCCI invited tenders for the auction of exclusive telecast rights for 4 years, for which both Zee and ESPN have given their biddings.
- After negotiations with both the bidders, BCCI accepted Zee’s bidding, worth US $260,756,756.76 (INR equivalent to Rs.12,060,000,000/-). Zee deposited a sum of Rs 92.50 crores equivalent to US $20 million, agreeing to the terms and conditions.
- Meanwhile, when ESPN filed a writ petition against Zee in the Bombay High Court and withdrew it on 21st September 2004, BCCI arbitrarily canceled the telecast rights to Zee.
- Hence, Zee Telefilms Ltd. approached the Supreme Court against BCCI regarding the cancellation of telecasting rights.
- Is BCCI a “state” within the ambit of Article 12 of the Indian constitution?
- Does the arbitrary action of BCCI violate the fundamental rights of Zee?
- Since BCCI is the monopoly body that controls Cricket in India and since it selects players who represent the country abroad, it is equally functioning like an indirect body of the government itself, hence within Article 12.
- Since it is equivalent to the state, its arbitrary actions, which affect the Fundamental right of equality, must be regulated by the Courts, as with the case of the state.
- That BCCI is a private organization, independent of the government of India, as it does not receive any financial assistance nor its functions and powers derived from any statute.
- Bringing sports regulatory agencies like BCCI within the purview of the state, thereby trying to argue for fundamental rights, would affect the very standard of the game.
- The issue was decided by a five-judge constitutional bench by the Supreme Court comprising Justices N.Santosh Hegde, S.N. Variava, B.P.Singh, H.K.Sema, and S.B. Sinha.
- The court observed that BCCI, though it enjoyed the monopoly status over the Cricket control, the state does not give this monopoly, nor the state protects such monopoly through any statute.
- The court also finds that BCCI is financially independent of the state, nor does the state hold any share in the board.
- With all these observations, the court finds no point in dealing with the contention that the respondents violated the petitioner’s fundamental rights.
- Only Justice Sinha gave the dissenting opinion that the board acted as a representative of the Government of India before the international community, and hence a State.
- Based on the observations mentioned above of the financial, administrative, and statutory autonomy of BCCI, it is not a ‘State’ within the meaning of “other bodies” under Article 12 of the Constitution of India.
- Hence, there is no question of the petitioner’s fundamental rights being arbitrarily violated by BCCI.
- Through this 5-judge bench, the Supreme Court has re-iterated the previous, well-settled rulings in Sabhajit Tewary vs. UOI; Pradeep Kumar Biswas vs. Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, clarifying all the ambiguity regarding the interpretation of “state” within the meaning of Article 12 of the constitution.
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