NEW DELHI: National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) will soon be freed of government control, becoming independent constitutional authorities like the Election Commission of India (ECI) or the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). A legislation to this effect is likely to be introduced as early as the next Budget session in February, TOI has learned.
Provisions have been made in the proposed ‘National Anti-Doping Bill 2018’ – which talks about criminalising doping as an offence – to make the two institutions autonomous. After circulating the revised draft among various stakeholders for suggestions, the anti-doping legislation has now been awaiting final approval from the sports ministry before being introduced in the parliament. It’s been learned that the NDTL will be brought under the independent control of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). A proposal to this effect was made during the NDTL’s general body meeting in August this year.
Presently, both NADA and the NDTL call themselves autonomous bodies, but are largely controlled by the union government, with sports minister (Kiren Rijiju) and sports secretary (Ravi Mittal) being the ex-officio chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the governing and general bodies of the two anti-doping watchdogs.
Other bureaucrats like the ministry’s joint secretaries, directors and Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) director general (Sandip Pradhan), too, have been occupying positions as general body members in both NADA and NDTL’s governing and general bodies. For the record, NADA has a nine-member governing body, while the NDTL has 17 members in its general body and another 12 in its governing body. NADA’s current director general & CEO, Navin Agarwal, too, is a government appointee.
Once the proposed legislation becomes a law, an independent, non-governmental governing body will be formed.
The need to make NADA and the NDTL free from government’s control arose after the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) cited the ‘conflict of interest’ in operational independence on part of those member National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) globally – including India’s NADA – which are controlled by their respective union governments.
Wada has revised its anti-doping ‘code’, which will come into force on January 1, 2021, strictly ensuring that the NADOs remain free from any government overreach. Similarly, for its member dope testing laboratories globally, Wada has stated that “the laboratory shall administratively and operationally remain independent from any organisation that could exert undue pressure, including the government or ministry of sport. This is necessary to avoid potential conflicts of interest and ensure full confidence in the laboratory’s competence, impartiality, judgment and operational integrity”.
According to the Wada, it has published a guidebook for NADOs that will support them in strengthening and reinforcing their operational independence as required by the revised Code that was approved in November 2019 and comes into force on January 1. “Following an exhaustive consultation process, Article 20.5.1 of the 2021 Code will ensure that NADOs are independent from sport and government in their operational decisions and activities by prohibiting any operational involvement by anyone who is at the same time involved in the management or operations of any International Federation, National Federation, Major Event Organisation, National Olympic Committee, National Paralympic Committee, or Government department with responsibility for sport or anti-doping,” the Wada website read.
In the proposed legislation, it’s been decided that there will no provision for jail term for the sportspersons/coaches allegedly involved in dope-related activities. The revised draft has tried to address the ambiguity surrounding criminalisation on part of athletes and coaches after the Wada had objected to this clause. People involved in trafficking prohibited substances to athletes for commercial purposes will be heavily fined – up to Rs 10 lakh – if their collusion with the organised doping syndicate was proven beyond doubt. TOI had exclusively reported about such changes in the proposed legislation in its edition dated August 29.
NADA has followed the roadmap of the Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) while doing away with the criminality part. SIA is an executive agency of the Australian Government, which commenced its operation on July 1, 2020. The agency was established by the Parliament of Australia.
In the original bill, the coaches stood the scrutiny of investigating authorities and were liable to be sentenced if their athletes tested positive for banned substances. Now, only the pharmacists and individual entities involved in trafficking drugs to athletes will remain liable for punishment with a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh.