With a number of cases already pending before the anti-doping disciplinary panel, those involving six top quarter-milers of the country seem to be heading for another long battle after Wednesday’s hearing was adjourned for October 5.Defence counsel R K Anand sought reports on the second test of one of the athletes from the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) due to which the hearing had to be adjourned.Ashwini Akkunji, Sini Jose, Mandeep Kaur, Jauna Murmu, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas appeared for their second hearing in the dope cases but there were hardly any arguments exchanged.The defence had sought the documentation package of all the athletes from NADA in the previous hearing. The packages of all the athletes were furnished but it came to light that Tiana tested positive for anabolic steroids in two different tests conducted by NADA – at the inter-state championships in June and an out-of competition test in Patiala.That gave Anand an opportunity to ask for the documentation package of the second test and the hearing had to be adjourned even as the prosecution lawyer asked for it to go ahead with the available documents on other athletes. But chairman of the disciplinary panel Dinesh Dayal allowed Anand another long period to prepare his case.According to the NADA rules, the hearing has to be completed within three months but often the cases have dragged on for months and in some cases, for more than a year. In fact, a few months back, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also pulled up NADA and asked it to hasten the hearing process. It was only then that NADA woke up to ask the disciplinary panels, which are independent bodies, to pick up the pace in the hearing processes.advertisementOn Wednesday, a three-member panel headed by Dayal also adjourned the hearing in the cases of 11 sports persons who tested positive for methylhexaneamine (MHA) last year.The MHA cases have been going on for close to a year, if not more than that, but the disciplinary panel hasn’t been able to come out with a verdict due to various delays at the pretext of some missing documents or the other.As the case dragged on, NADA stepped in and requested the panel to accelerate proceedings. A time-bound schedule for the hearings was proposed this week, but the hearing has now been adjourned till October 7.Seized or provided?The tests on the food supplements provided by the quartermilers have returned positive but it throws a serious question on what can be tested at the National Drug Testing Laboratory (NDTL) and what not.Besides, there is no clarity on whether the food supplements that were tested there were seized or voluntarily provided by the athletes.It has been reliably learnt that NADA never collected the food supplements from the athletes. It was the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which collected the samples at the behest the Mudgal committee, which is looking into the dope cases in athletics, and passed them on to the NDTL. However, as per the rules, NDTL cannot conduct tests except if the request comes from NADA or from any other national sports federation.Another question that arises is whether the supplements that have returned positive tests are the same as those substance found in the samples provided by the athletes.The banned substance, which has been found in the supplements, is ginseng and if brought to the notice of the panel, it may help the athletes to get a reduced sanction on the basis of “No fault or negligence clause,” mentioned in the NADA code.But for that, the hearing process will have to come to some conclusion which does not seem likely in the near future.Panel head pleads for more staffThe anti-doping disciplinary panelists, who decide the fate of India’s top athletes caught in the drug mess, are finding it hard to carry out their work in the absence of the required facilities.Justice CK Mahajan on Wednesday was once again critical of the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) for the lack of staff for him and other panelists. “I have been asking for a dedicated staff for hearing proceedings for a long time but I have got nothing,” said Mahajan as he got ready to dictate his order to a NADA official.It is just one official who has been designated to help the anti-doping disciplinary and appeals panel with its daily proceedings. Besides, the official also goes out for sample collection to various places outside the Capital and then has to maintain all the legal and laboratory records of the athletes which are to be provided to the panelists.advertisementAlso, he has to double up as a stenographer as well when the anti-doping panel dictates its order. On Wednesday, when another official came to take the order on a laptop, Mahajan made his displeasure clear.”It will take three days to dictate the order,” he said. Following his comments, one of the lawyers came in to take down the order.