Madras HC division bench restrains BCCI on telecast issue

NEW DELHI: In what could be considered a moral victory for Zee Telefilms; a division bench of the Madras high court today passed an interim order restraining the Indian cricket board from undertaking any re-bidding of the cricket telecast rights.

The division bench also made it clear that if the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) went in for re-tendering of the Indian cricket telecast rights, as had been allowed by the Madras high court through an order last month, it would be cancelled till an appeal by Zee Telefilms is fully settled.

The division bench, which stayed an earlier Madras high court order on the telecast rights issue, made the observation today after Zee Telefilms had appealed against a 21 March court verdict arguing that if the cricket board was in the wrong, then a direction should come that Zee be handed back the rights.

The next hearing of the case is scheduled for 20 April. This would mean that the BCCI, which could have gone in for a re-tendering after the ongoing Indo-Pak cricket series came to an end, will have to wait at least till the next date of hearing.

A spokesperson for Zee Telefilms hailed the interim order and added that the company's stand on the whole rights issue is being vindicated. BCCI was not immediately available for comments.

After a Supreme Court order earlier this year stated that the BCCI could not be sued for irregularities and breach of fundamental rights on the cricket issue under certain Articles of the Indian Constitution, Zee Telefilms approached the Madras HC seeking redressal under Article 226.

Last month, the Madras HC, while coming down heavily on the BCCI and its former chief, Jagmohan Dalmia, however did not hand out any relief to Zee Telefilms, stating that the latter could sue the cricket board, which also could again put up the Indian cricket telecast rights for sale to the highest bidder.

Zee Telefilms appeal against this order in front of a division bench of the same high court, which is allowed under the legal system, also gives another twist to the cricket saga that has got deeply embroiled in controversies with an early end to the dispute nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, Zee Telefilms has also sent a letter to the BCCI claiming compensation to the tune of Rs 16,300 million for the cancellation of telecast rights awarded to it in September 2004.

"We have engaged a leading international accounting firm to prepare a detailed report calculating the damages caused to us. Our preliminary estimate of such damages is Rs 1,630 crore," Zee Telefilms has stated said in a notice sent to the BCCI.

The media company has also given BCCI time till 7 April to reply to this legal notice after which it would decide on future course of legal action. Till today, BCCI has not reverted.

The Zee missive has pointed out that the decision of the cricket board to permit other broadcasters to telecast the cricket matches (primarily Doordarshan in India and some foreign broadcasters outside the country) has resulted in additional losses to the company.

"We are giving this notice to the BCCI and Dalmia so as to invite the board to form a committee that can jointly consider the matter in order to arrive at an agreed figure so that further costs and expenses are saved, failing which we shall hold BCCI and Dalmia liable for any further costs and expenses incurred by us in calculation of damages in this complex situation, a business newspaper, quoting from the letter, reported some days back.

Interestingly, even while sending such letters to the BCCI, Zee has simultaneously expressed the hope that the crisis could be resolved 'amicably.'

In a related development, the Madras HC also stayed a March 21 order of a single judge holding that termination of a tender process by the BCCI for telecasting cricket matches in the country was "improper" and coming down heavily on former board president Jagmohan Dalmiya.The interim stay was granted by the first bench, comprising Chief Justice Markandey Katju and Justice F M Ibrahim Kalifullah, on separate appeals filed by the BCCI and Dalmiya against Justice K P Sivasubramanian's order.

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