Rapping the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department for failing to safeguard valuable antique idols, the Madras High Court on Friday directed the State government to issue an order entrusting Inspector-General of Police A.G. Ponn Manickavel with the probe in pending cases of temple idol thefts and expedite trial in courts.
Mr. Manickavel, who headed the Idol Wing CID, was recently shifted as IGP Railways.
Justice R. Mahadevan passed the order while disposing of two petitions questioning the failure of the HR&CE Department and the Idol Wing CID in taking action against erring officials responsible for theft of antique idols.
“It is saddening to note that the idols stolen from the State are smuggled out of the country. A wing, a first of its kind, was created to investigate and recover the idols, but the steps taken by the HR&CE Department to arrest the theft are unsatisfactory,” the judge said.
Pointing out that there is lack of coordination among the central agencies to curb the crime, the judge said idols could not be smuggled unless there was mis-declaration which warrants action by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Customs against the illegal exporter.
“In the cases on hand, the erring officials have had a free hand in handling the idols as if it was their private property. Curiously, there is no denial about the existence of the tunnel (as alleged by the petitioner) and stocking (of idols at) the PWD guest house,” said Justice Mahadevan.
Appreciating the work of Mr. Ponn Manickavel, the court said his team must continue speedy investigation. The Chief Secretary must issue orders within a week for creation of a special camp in Tiruchi to be headed by Mr. Ponn Manickavel besides providing necessary infrastructure. The court directed all authorities cited as respondents in the case to file reports by September 4.
One of the petitioners in the case, R.Venkataraman, had submitted that antique idols worth several crores of rupees under the custody of Sri Pasupatheeswarar temple, Pandanallur, were swindled by the trustees in collusion with some HR&CE Department officials. He said the officials kept 10 idols in a scrap room in a PWD guest house flouting the procedures and created a secret tunnel to commit further theft.
Another petitioner, ‘Elephant’ G.Rajendran, an advocate, questioned the pace of investigation into a case in which suspended DSP Kadher Batcha was involved.