Chennai@2019: The year in retrospect Tamil Nadu

Internal squabbles, legal wrangling leave TN Idol Wing short of achievements

A file photograph of former Inspector General of Police, Idol Wing, A.G. Pon Manickavel inspecting ancient icons at the Big Temple safe vault in Thanjavur   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The story of the Idol Wing in 2019 is sadly a case of flattering to deceive. So much that could have been achieved has been let go due to internal squabbles and one-upmanship within the department with the doorway of the Madras High Court being constantly crossed. At the end of the year, a change in leadership at the helm of affairs was a milestone.

Despite the main culprits in idol thievery and smuggling Subash Kapoor and Sanjeevi Ashokan arrested in 2009 and 2011 and Valabh Prakash and Aditya Prakash in 2016, the Idol Wing has not been able to bring to closure to any case. The few cases that have been filed are ill prepared and incomplete. Communication of case progress and new case filings are crucial to support the battle against idol smuggling. Better co-ordination and co-operation within agencies both inside India and overseas, is an areas that has been completely neglected over the past years.

However, the special unit under the High Court-appointed special officer and retired inspector General of Police A.G. Ponn Manickavel made arrests including a former senior official of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE) and a few others. In March, the former Commissioner of the HR & CE Department and retired IAS officer, M. Veera Shanmuga Moni was arrested on suspicion of his involvement in misappropriation of funds and gold collected towards the renovation of the Kanchipuram temple. In August, the special unit arrested an Indian-origin French woman who was allegedly part of a gang that had been illegally exporting stolen antique idols and artefacts for several years from Puducherry to France through the Colombo port. A bronze Nataraja idol of Kallidaikurichi, stolen in 1982 was brought back in September from Australia. A charge-sheet was filed in couple of cases, including one that had Subash Kapoor involved.

The special officer Mr. Manickavel had to spend a lot of time fighting the government in the courts. Allegations and counter allegations were flying thick in the air. A day before his tenure was over on November 30, Mr. Manickavel was ordered to hand over all his files to the Additional Director General of Police, Idol Wing CID, Abhay Kumar Singh.

Mr. Manikavel had to then exit following an order passed by Supreme Court. He was given time to hand over the files. Inspector General of Police T.S. Anbu was posted additionally in the special unit. The new team has made two arrests so far.

On the positive side, the public awareness of the scale and scope of the idol smuggling cartel, in some cases with the connivance of temple authorities, has gone up. There is now awareness among administrators and temple authorities of the absolute need to photo document the murthis in order to stop theft and aid in recovery. Further, strong rooms have come up in many temples and CCTV cameras have been installed.

From the public, there has been an effort to properly register antiquities and report thefts. The Idol Wing must use this momentum to open all past cases and ensure all leads are pursued and culprits brought to book, besides making efforts to retrieve all the known stolen antiquities and idols.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 6:54:18 AM |

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