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Uncertainty looms over IPL again

Organisers of the Indian Premier League were tonight scurrying to salvage the world’s richest cricket tournament after the Centre withheld security clearance and asked for yet another revised schedule to factor in demands made by host states.

The Union home ministry said the revised IPL schedule of March 7 was untenable as all the states had specified security requirements for hosting the matches on the new dates. The duration of the IPL coincides with the five-phase Lok Sabha elections between April 16 and May 13.

“IPL organisers have been advised to accommodate the concerns of the various state governments and draw up a revised schedule and submit the same to the ministry of home affairs,” a ministry release said.

IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and chief executive officer Sundar Raman flew to Delhi from Mumbai to meet home minister P. Chidambaram and other officials over the weekend to find a way out of the stalemate. A final decision is expected by Monday.

Under the revised schedule, there was a minimum gap of 48 hours — six to seven days in some cases — before and after the election date at every venue. This was done to ensure that the matches would not clash with poll dates.

IPL sources said there would have to be a further tweaking of dates, but there was no guarantee the states would agree given their insistence on security following the Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan team.

“The other option is to curtail the tournament, which is now spread over 45 days. There are many ways to do that, maybe have a knockout league or divide the teams in groups. Various avenues are being explored,” said a source in IPL.

Modi has made it clear the tournament would be held within the original April 10-May 24 window, as it would be difficult to fit it in otherwise given the crowded international calendar.

The IPL commissioner said he would submit another revised schedule which would incorporate Ahmedabad, and possibly Dharamsala, as venues.

The home ministry decision came after a meeting at North Block attended by Chidambaram. He spoke via video-conferencing to top police officials of the seven states which have sent in their demands and objections. (See chart)

The conditions laid down by Bengal — it cannot release police personnel pledged for election duty during the tournament and requires 30 companies of paramilitary forces for the game on May 4 — are among the stiffest and “virtually impossible” to fulfil, said home ministry sources.

A similar response was received from Punjab which wants its 10 companies (of about 125 personnel each) of state police personnel exempted from election duty if the matches are to be held at Mohali.

The home ministry’s response was categorical.

“It is not possible to exempt any state from its promise to release police personnel for election duty because these have been taken into account in arriving at the overall availability of security forces,” an officer said.

Other states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi and Rajasthan — have either outright rejected some match dates or made demands for additional forces.

Tamil Nadu had already made it clear it could not hold matches till May 16 — the day of counting of votes — and all its matches have been scheduled from May 17 onwards.

Home ministry officials have clarified more than once that some paramilitary troops could be spared if a state could place a convincing argument, but Bengal’s demand for 30 companies cannot be met.

Modi has been extremely eager to hold the tournament, high on cash and glamour, within its original window. Soon after Chidambaram’s statement after the Lahore attack that the IPL organisers should take a re-look at the dates because they coincided with the elections, Modi, then in Macau, was quoted as saying by television channels that “the country cannot come to a standstill for six weeks”.

Earlier in the week, he asserted that the tournament’s security budget would go up 10 times and protection for teams would be taken care of by IPL centrally.

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