Banana bill of Rs 35 lakh, ‘death threats’: Uttarakhand cricket under cloud

OVER Rs 1.74 CRORE for food and catering, including Rs 35 lakh for bananas; Rs 49.5 lakh in daily allowances; Rs 11 crore spent during the Covid lockdown; non-payment of players’ dues; dodgy selection policies. And then, extortion and death threats.

The Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (CAU) is in the middle of a storm of allegations, ranging from financial impropriety to intimidation of players.

So much so that CAU secretary Mahim Verma, the team’s head coach Manish Jha and the association spokesperson Sanjay Gusain were questioned by the Uttarakhand Police after they were named in an FIR by the father of a former India Under-19 cricketer for alleged extortion and death threats.

“For the past three days, we have called Mahim Verma, Manish Jha and Sanjay Gusain separately. We have interrogated them. We have taken their statements,” Janmejaya Khanduri, SSP Dehradun, told The Indian Express. “If needed, it will be done again.”

The FIR, registered at Vasant Vihar police station in Dehradun, has been filed under IPC sections for criminal conspiracy (120B), voluntarily causing hurt (323), extortion (384), intentional insult (504) and criminal intimidation (506).

The complainant Virendra Sethi, who is the father of former Under-19 player Arya Sethi, has alleged that his son was given death threats by Jha, team manager Navneet Mishra and video analyst Piyush Raghuvanshi during the Vijay Hazare tournament last year.

According to records reviewed by The Indian Express and interviews with players, this is just the latest chapter in Uttarakhand cricket’s troubled innings.

The players point to non-payment or under-payment of dues (Rs 100 paid as DA when the mandated amount is Rs 1,500) and not being provided food during tournaments and training camps — the association’s books list expenses totalling several lakhs of rupees on items such as bananas and water bottles, even during the pandemic.

The CAU’s audit report of March 31, 2020, has listed Rs 1,74,07,346 for food and catering and Rs 49,58,750 for daily allowances. This includes Rs 35 lakh for bananas and Rs 22 lakh for water bottles.

Robin Bisht, an outstation professional for the Uttarakhand team, corroborated Sethi’s allegations, and recalled an incident before the recent Ranji Trophy quarterfinal against Mumbai.

“We returned to the team hotel and, after our recovery session in the pool, went for lunch. The hotel staff said they were told not to serve us food. When we called the team manager, he replied: ‘Order something from Swiggy or Zomato or stay hungry. Ek din khana nahi khaoge toh mar nahi jaoge (If you don’t eat for a day, you won’t die)’,” said Bisht.

Uttarakhand lost the match to Mumbai by 725 runs — a world record victory margin in cricket.

“Next day, we had a flight to Delhi. After exiting the airport, we again called up our team manager to say that we needed to go to Dehradun. ‘Where is our bus?’ The reply came, ‘book a cab, bus or train. Our job was to get you guys to Delhi, not your homes’,” said Bisht.

Allegations of corruption have also been levelled against CAU by Independent MLA Umesh Kumar in the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly.

“During Covid, CAU distributed Rs 6.5 crore as professional fees. I want to know to whom they paid this money? Before March 2020, the professional fees were around Rs 2.75 crore. During Covid, who had lunch and dinner of Rs 1.27 crore? How did they hire cricketing coaches? I raised this in Uttarakhand Sadan too. I think the BCCI should intervene; there is very big corruption going on here,” Kumar told The Indian Express.

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“During lockdown when everything was shut, they invested Rs 11 crore, and under full operation, you are investing Rs 12 crore,” Kumar said.

The players, meanwhile, complained of being paid much lower than what the BCCI regulations stipulate. “Our official DA is Rs 1,500, we were getting Rs 100 per day. We got Rs 2,700 for 27 days; an unskilled labourer earned more than us,” said Bisht.

MLA Kumar said he has brought the matter to the state government’s notice. “Me and 12 other MLAs have written to the Chief Minister, and if need be, we will go to the Supreme Court. The Lodha Committee was appointed by the Supreme Court, and ‘Mr Verma and Company’ are not following the court’s regulations,” Kumar said.

In his police complaint, Sethi alleged that Verma demanded Rs 10 lakh for including his son in the state team.

These allegations come after former India opener Wasim Jaffer had to leave his post as head coach after allegations of “communalising” the dressing room — charges that Jaffer strongly denied.

CAU secretary Mahim Verma and president Jot Singh Gansola also face a complaint from their own association’s vice-president Sanjay Rawat and joint secretary Avnish Verma before the state cricket body’s Ombudsman and Ethics Officer, alleging financial irregularities. “We have sent a letter to the BCCI as well. The Ethics officer has told Mahim Verma and Jot Singh Gansola to submit their response by Thursday,” said Rawat.

Speaking to The Indian Express, a top BCCI official said: “Right now, it is a matter related to a state association. In case it is raised at the BCCI’s apex council meeting on July 21, we will look into it.”

Mahim Verma and head coach Manish Jha did not respond to calls from The Indian Express seeking comment on the allegations against them.

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