Did National Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar influence the government not to levy entertainment tax on the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket matches played in the state? Shiv Sena MLA Subhash Desai has so alleged in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Bombay high court, seeking that entertainment tax be levied on the IPL games.
The high court on Wednesday directed Desai to add Pawar as a respondent to the PIL. The division bench of justice PB Majmudar and justice RG Ketkar said that the NCP boss, who is also the Union agricultural minister, should be given a fair chance to defend himself against the “serious allegations” levelled at him.
Desai has alleged that Pawar, as chief of the NCP, one of the ruling parties in the state, used his influence to get IPL matches exempted from entertainment tax.
The court directed the petitioner to issue a notice to Pawar after senior counsel Raju Subramaniam and advocate Neha Bhide, both representing the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said that Pawar, though a former BCCI president, was no more a member of the board. Hence, he should be made a separate party to the petition.
The court made the Union government a respondent to the PIL. The additional solicitor general’s office was issued a notice to reply to questions raised by the court: Is there any code of conduct for ministers or chief ministers holding posts in sports bodies like the BCCI? Will there be a conflict of interests if a minister is part of a sports body?
“If a minister with a particular portfolio is holding a position in a cricket association, and if a decision has to be taken for granting some exemption, perhaps, a conflict of interests might arise,” justice Majmudar said.
The court also issued notices to suspended IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and the interim commissioner Chirayu Amin on the issue of entertainment tax exemption.
Government pleader Dhairyasheel Nalavade told the court that no decision had been taken by the cabinet about levying entertainment tax on IPL matches. He clarified to the court that on January 20, the state cabinet had only discussed levying the tax, but no decision was taken.
Desai’s lawyer, Balkrishna Joshi, argued that the cabinet in that meeting had decided to levy tax on IPL matches. He said its proof was there media reports published in the January 21, 2010, edition of all newspapers.
“There was no mention about exemption. Neither was any statement made denying the decision,” Joshi said. He added that the government resolution of May 12, 1964, did not cover the IPL, as it was not in existence then.
Joshi added that contrary statements were made by state finance minister Sunil Tatkare of the NCP and chief minister Ashok Chavan. Tatkare had said that no decision was taken about levying entertainment tax on IPL matches. Chavan had said that the government will impose tax on IPL matches.
The court directed all the parties, including Pawar and the Union government, to filereplies by June 22.