Dehradun: A month after he got an FIR lodged against office-bearers of the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (CAU) for alleged extortion and criminal intimidation, Virendra Sethi, the father of Ranji player and former Under-19 batsman Arya Sethi, has said he still fears for his son’s life.
Speaking to ThePrint, Virendra Sethi alleged that the family has received death threats and that that he has asked Arya to pursue further studies outside India for his own safety. “We are scared to move out freely and do not let anyone know our location while away from home. My son is not safe here. It’s difficult to tell anyone the level of trauma we are facing. The police know everything, but I will soon apprise them of our condition in writing,” Sethi said.
He added that he does not think his son has a future in India, despite having played first-class cricket for Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh for more than seven years.
Arya Sethi is a former under-19 India Challenger Trophy player and an Uttarakhand Ranji Trophy team member.
In an FIR filed at Dehradun’s Vasant Vihar police station on 20 June, Virendra Sethi alleged that his son had been beaten by his coach during the Vijay Hazare Trophy in Rajkot last December. He claimed that when he complained to CAU secretary Mahim Verma, a campaign of harassment and attempted extortion was waged against him and Arya by several functionaries of the CAU.
In the ensuing month, Virendra Sethi alleged, matters have only grown worse.
Garhwal Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Karan Singh Nagnyal said a probe in the matter is underway. “Statements of three of them have been recorded while others will also be summoned soon. Arrest of the accused persons depends on the evidence gathered by the officials.”
On the alleged security threat to the Sethis, the DIG said: “The complainant is yet to bring this to our knowledge. Suitable action, including providing security to them, will be taken if they ask for it.”
The CAU, meanwhile, maintains that the accusations are unfounded and that Arya is still a member of the Uttarakhand Ranji team. “It’s improper to speak much on this issue as the investigation is ongoing and we all are cooperating with it. No one threatened Arya Sethi or his father or asked for money as is being said,” Sanjay Gusain, spokesperson of the CAU, told ThePrint.
This is not the only controversy involving the CAU. Last week, it was reported that a 30 March 2021 audit report found that the cricketing body spent more than Rs 1.74 crore on food and catering, including Rs 35 lakh for bananas.
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‘They are like gangsters’
According to the FIR filed by Sethi, Arya was beaten and ill-treated by his coach Manish Jha while training on 11 December 2021. The cricketer’s father alleged that he then complained to CAU Secretary Mahim Verma, but no action was taken. Instead, death threats soon followed from Jha, team manager Navneet Mishra, and video analyst Piyush Raghuvanshi, the complaint said.
“All three openly threatened to shoot my son down through one Brijesh Singh, who Piyush Raghuvanshi said was his uncle. When I again approached Mahim Varma, he said I would have to pay Rs 10 lakh, or else my son’s career would be finished. The others raised the same demand. This is mentioned in the FIR,” Virendra Sethi said.
Besides Manish Jha, Mahim Verma, Piyush Raghuvanshi, and Navneet Mishra, the FIR names CAU spokesperson Sanjay Gusain and two staff members, Parul and Satyam Verma.
All have been booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 323 (causing harm), 384 (extortion), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of peace), and 506 (criminal intimidation).
Talking about the CAU functionaries named in the FIR, Sethi alleged: “They are like gangsters targeting parents and have destroyed the future of several young cricketers in the state. Complaints of extortion against them were lodged by other parents in the past as well.”
CAU says accusations are ‘baseless’
The allegations against the CAU and its office-bearers are “baseless” and “targeted at demeaning the association’s credibility”, according to Sanjay Gusain.
“Arya’s father first lodged a complaint with the police in December 2021. However, one month later, Arya gave an undertaking saying he had nothing against the CAU and its members. He joined camp for Ranji matches and was inducted in the team. He is still a team member. Now why would anyone ask for money from a player who was already in the team?” Gusain said.
CAU president Jot Singh Gunsola told ThePrint that there was “no question of asking for money” by any office-bearer of the association. “The CAU will reply to the allegations in the court and speak in public after the matter is resolved,” Gunsola said.
‘Religious bias’, Rs 35 lakh bananas
Controversies have dogged the CAU ever since it was given membership of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in August 2019. Four associations in Uttarakhand had reportedly vied for BCCI affiliation.
In February last year, Former Indian test opener and CAU coach Wasim Jaffer had to make an unceremonious exit following allegations of communal bias.
Navneet Mishra had alleged that Zafar picked players on religious lines, resulting in a probe ordered by the then chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. Jaffer resigned, but not before calling the communal accusation “low”, and alleging that the CAU promoted “undeserving players” and interfered in selection.
Another major controversy that blemished the CAU’s image was allegedly inflated bills raised in its very first year, when operations were shut down for months due to Covid.
A CAU audit report in March 2021 said over Rs 1.74 crore was spent on food, including Rs 35 lakh for bananas and Rs 22 lakh for water.
The audit report also indicated that more than Rs 50 lakh went towards daily allowances for players. This particular claim has been challenged by some cricketers.
“We were supposed to get Rs 1,500 as daily allowances but they paid only Rs 100. When they asked me to join the team, they assured me they would reimburse my fuel bill from Delhi to Dehradun, but it’s been nearly eight months and they haven’t. Now I have given up,” said Robin Bisht, a Delhi-based outstation guest player for the Uttarakhand Ranji team.
Bisht, who has earlier played for Rajasthan and other states, added: “CAU authorities have made a mess of the association. Players are left stranded without food and allowances when they go out to play. It’s absolute chaos here. The BCCI needs to intervene.”
The issue of alleged inflated bills was also raised by Independent MLA Umesh Kumar in this June’s Uttarakhand assembly session.
Kumar had asked the government to let the House know how the CAU distributed Rs 6.5 crore in professional fees to the players during Covid, while the pre-pandemic amount was about Rs 2.75 crore. Kumar also questioned Rs 1.27 crore spent for lunch and dinner and net investment of Rs 11 core during the pandemic, when CAU’s open annual spending had never exceeded Rs 12 crore earlier.
On the issue of purported financial irregularities, CAU vice-president Sanjay Rawat alleged “bungling of funds” by a few members of the organisation.
“They spent crores as per their whims and fancies. CAU is run with an annual budget of Rs 11 crore provided by the BCCI, but the secretary did not even bother about what will happen if BCCI questions our spending. They always sought the support of three nominated members to obtain majority in clearing budget. This, despite the fact that the nominated members have no voting right. No one has questioned them so far, not even the audit agency hired by the association,” Rawat alleged.
Gusain, meanwhile, claimed that there was no Rs 35 lakh banana bill with the CAU and that the association’s spending was above board. “The BCCI gave 110 first class matches to CAU in 2019 and we executed it much to its satisfaction. Rs 1.74 crore for more than 100 matches cannot be such a big spending as alleged,” he said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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