Senior advocate and MP Dr. Singhvi asks questions on fantasy sports in Rajya Sabha while appearing for operators in the Karnataka case
13th December 2021
Senior advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi who is also a Rajya Sabha member had raised a question in the upper house on games of skill and games of chance. The question is posed as a starred question requiring the government to respond orally on the floor. The question is listed for December 16.
Mr. Singhvi is representing Gameskraft Technologies Pvt Ltd in the ongoing saga before the Karnataka High Court concerning the recently enacted online gaming ban law. Singhvi last appeared in the matter on December 6.
Appearing for Gameskraft, Singhvi last argued before the High Court that there is a distinction between a game of chance and a game of skill. He contended that the game of chance can be regulated by authorities but they have no jurisdiction on prohibiting games of skill. Now, less than a week later, Singhvi, has asked a question in Rajya Sabha in his capacity as a member of the house concerning the game of skill and game of chance:
- The details of advisory issued by the Ministry on advertisements on fantasy sports;
- The reasons for not making any differentiation between games of skills and games of chance in it;
- The policy position of the Ministry on these categories.
The timing of the question given his personal appearance in the Karnataka High Court has raised questions of proprietary and conflict of interest. Responding to Indian Express, Dr. Singhvi said there is no conflict as he appeared for rummy operators and not fantasy operators.
Dr. Singhvi responded to Indian Express that his question was to clarify the concept. “The question is asked only as a conceptual question about games of skill and I do not have the remotest interest in any operator. Even the slightest idea of conflict of interest never entered my mind,” he was quoted.
But Singhvi’s client Gameskraft offers fantasy sports. Another client PlayGames24x7 also offers fantasy sports under the brand My11Circle. So Singhvi’s argument that he has not appeared for fantasy sports operators is not entirely correct.
Speaking to Indian Express, PDT Achary, former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha, said, “What Singhvi is doing may not come within the definition of “conflict of interests, but it is certainly improper.” “There are no rules relating to admission of questions or asking supplementary questions in the House on the basis of conflict of interest. Of course, it is a question of impropriety if the member has a direct and pecuniary interest in the matter relating to questions in Parliament,” he said.
This is not the first time a question of conflict of interest by lawyer politicians is raised. In 2018, Supreme Court advocate Ashwini Upadhyay filed public interest litigation barring MPs and MLAs from practicing law. This case was dismissed holding that the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961 and the Rules framed thereunder, do not place any restrictions on the legislators to practise as advocates during the relevant period. Singhvi who has been a member of the Rajya Sabha since 2006, disclosed an income of Rupees fifty crore from professional engagement in 2010.
In August, a division bench of the Madras High Court struck down a similar law that banned online gaming including games of skill. This case is now appealed by the Tamil Nadu government before the Supreme Court. In another similar case, the Kerala High Court had struck down a similar notification banning online rummy.