Shimla, March 29 (IANS) The era of freebies is over for the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) - at least during the the two Indian Premier League-6 (IPL-6) matches in the state in May. At the bottom line, it's to do with politics.
For, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has bowled out the hopes of the match organisers for free police protection during the May 16 and 18 matches at HPCA's picturesque stadium in Dharamsala, 250 km from state capital Shimla.
"Earlier it might have been so, but that's not the case now," the chief minister said.
Not mincing words, he said the match organisers would have to foot the security bill.
"The government would charge for providing security to any event which is commercial," Virbhadra Singh told reporters in Kangra town on Sunday.
The HPCA, he said, is a commercial organization; so it would be charged accordingly.
The cricket body is controlled by Anurag Thakur, a BJP MP and son of Virbhadra Singh's predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Official sources told IANS that during the seven IPL matches played in the last three seasons, the state government, then headed by Dhumal, had not charged the HPCA for providing security.
Supporting the state government's decision, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has even demanded that the dues should be recovered from the HPCA before it is allowed to host matches.
"The matches should not be allowed till the dues are recovered," the CPi-M said, a day after the chief minister spoke on the issue.
The IPL, the CPI-M said, was a money-making machine and was not doing any charity. "An amount of more than Rs.2 crore is due from the HPCA," CPI-M state secretariat member Tikender Panwar told IANS.
He also demanded that the government re-acquire a chunk of village land allotted to the HPCA by bending the rules during the BJP regime for a luxury players' resort near the stadium.
Citing a 2011 Supreme Court judgment of 2011 which held the transfer of village community land for private and commercial use as illegal, Panwar said the HPCA was an encroacher and should be evicted.
The Congress, while in the opposition, had also objected to the land allotment.
Official sources told IANS the state government has already started the process to examine violations, if any, of statutory provisions in allotting the land.
"The land was the common village land which could not be given for any commercial activity. There is a clear-cut violation of land laws," said a revenue official, who didn't wish to be identified.
HPCA press secretary Mohit Sood said the stadium's popularity soared after the past IPL seasons and the first international match - the India-England ODI - on January 23.
"The CPi-M's allegations against the HPCA are aimed at garnering cheap publicity," he added.
The HPCA's new showpiece venue, located at an altitude of 4,000 feet above sea level, is surrounded by the mighty snow-clad Dhauladhar range.
The stadium has a 21,600-seating capacity, besides a world-class indoor stadium comprising video analysis facilities for both bowlers and players, a club lounge, restaurant, a bar and a banquet hall.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org