Sreesanth, the gangster! Now, that's stretching it too far

Even if Shantakumaran Sreesanth (above) was acting for the bookies, he was acting on orders of Jiju Janardhanan © PTI

It’s laughable to indicate Shantakumaran Sreesanth and fellow cricketers did anything that could remotely infer “use of violence or threat of violence or intimidation or coercion”, as MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) describes “organised crime”, opines Shantanu Datta.

If Shantakumaran Sreesanth was hurling this, it would have been called a wide delivery; and a wide by a fair margin. Shorn of the cricket parlance, it can be restricted to the phrase ‘losing the plot’ — bit by small bit. That’s Delhi Police’s case, in parts, in the spot-fixing charges against the Kerala medium-pacer and his two Rajasthan Royals teammates, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila.

The case in point is invoking the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the trio as well as others accused of spot-fixing. A Delhi court okayed the police special cell’s case on Tuesday, June 4 — ironically the day a Mumbai court granted bail to Vindoo Dara Singh and Gurunath Meiyappan, two others accused by Mumbai Police of colluding with bookies to allegedly stake money, if not spot-fix, on matches.

But isn’t Delhi Police going a little too far in the direction of crank’s corner with MCOCA? Three reasons why the cops are belting out bad PJs:

*Simply put, MCOCA was enacted by Maharashtra government in 1999 for a specific purpose: to combat organised crime and terrorism. Why? Over to the preface of the Act: “Mumbai being the economic capital of India, it is a targeted centre of criminals who hoard money through illegal means. In recent years criminal activities like murders of tycoons related to film industry as well by builders, extortion of money from businessmen, abduction etc. show that criminal gangs are active in the state. To cope with them, legislation in the lines of the present law was essential…. with the passing of this law, unlawful elements spreading terrorism in the society can be controlled to great extent and it will go a long way in minimising the feeling of fear spread in the society.”

Did the police seriously think Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila were into such crimes? Yes, it’s a crime to be in touch with Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and company. But the Delhi police commissioner had himself said during the press conference after arresting the trio that the only “bookie” Sreesanth was in touch with is Jiju Janardhanan, his “close friend”, as special commissioner of special cell SN Srivastava put it. If Sreesanth did not know any other bookie, how can the police claim they have “electronic evidence” to connect the dots all the way to Dawood?

Even if Sreesanth was acting for the bookies, he was acting on orders of Jiju. So the police need to establish a direct hotline between Jiju and Dawood etc, because the MCOCA clarifies that the criminal has to be “member of an organised crime syndicate or (acting) on behalf of such syndicate”.

If the cops believe in damning the spirit of the law, here are bit of “letter” of MCOCA, from its “definitions” sub-section: “(e) “organised crime” means any continuing unlawful activity by an individual, singly or jointly, either as a member of an organised crime syndicate or on behalf of such syndicate, by use of violence or threat of violence or intimidation or coercion, or other unlawful means, with the objective of gaining pecuniary benefits, or gaining undue economic or other advantage for himself or any person or promoting insurgency…”

It’s laughable to indicate that Sreesanth and his fellow cricketers did anything that could remotely infer “use of violence or threat of violence or intimidation or coercion”. There’s the word “other unlawful means” as well, in which case MCOCA, if you stretch the spirit of law like a rubber band, could be slapped on former law minister Ashwani Kumar as well — for vetting the CBI’s draft report on the coal blocks allocation scam. There were “pecuniary benefits” or “gaining undue economic advantage” to be had, of course — Rs 1.80-lakh crore, as per the CAG.

But then, it was not an “organised crime”, and Ashwani Kumar certainly was not “either a member of an organised crime syndicate or (acting) on behalf of such syndicate”.

For heaven’s sake, contending that Sreesanth and the other two cricketers were is stretching the argument more than like a rubber band. In fact, so much stretching would snap the band.

*Delhi Police sure was toying with MCOCA for a while, only no one expected it to fish out a few cricketers who allegedly tanked an over or two to make a few lakhs. It was to deal with “organised crimes such as snatching and robbery”. An April 5 report of the Indian Express quotes special commissioner (law and order) Deepak Mishra, “We are mulling over invoking MCOCA in cases where it is applicable.”

The report says, “In a recent meeting, guidelines were issued to all District Deputy Commissioners of Police, to ensure that stringent action was taken against those involved in organised crimes such as snatching and robbery.”

That’s logical, as then Mumbai Police commissioner D Sivanandan explained while defending MCOCA in an interview to Tehelka magazine in January 2010: “Criminal gangs have been controlled due to several factors. MCOCA is one of them. Earlier, we had the Maharashtra Preventive Detention Act under which about 50 people would be jailed every year. In 1999, [when MCOCA was enacted] we jailed 642.

Detention and seizures were used. The gun culture was controlled. Extortionists were arrested and convicted. Encounter [killings] also had a role.

One could be accused of being a citizen of a soft state, but did Sreesanth have anything to do with robbery, snatching, extortion, murder, guns etc — some of the grounds on which MCOCA could be used, as the two officers explained?

(Shantanu Datta is a Senior Editor with Governance Now from where the above article is republished with permission)