The Madras High Court on Friday (30 November) set aside the state government's order transferring all the pending and future idol theft cases to the CBI from CID's idol wing.
It also appointed inspector general of police Pon Manickavel, who was set to retire today, as the special officer for one year to conduct the probe, Times Of India has reported.
Tamil Nadu (TN) government has been wanting to see the back of I G Pon Manickavel of the idol wing of Tamil Nadu police despite his accomplishments in recovering stolen pieces of heritage and temple idols.
It transferred Manickavel out of the idol wing but the high court quashed the transfer order. It also directed the officer to continue the probe.
In his illustrious career, Manickavel has busted international idol smuggling rackets and restored many ancient and antique temple properties from across Tamil Nadu. On 1 August, the TN Government passed an order transferring all the pending and future idol theft cases to the CBI. This was challenges by advocate Elephant G Rajendran who filed a PIL in the court.
Since Manickavel took charge, the idol wing has gone about its job professionally and is giving sleepless nights to many idol smugglers and thieves. More importantly, some of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) officials in Tamil Nadu, besides a few police officials and bureaucrats, are not able to breathe easy, given their complicity in some of the idol theft cases.
A division bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice P D Audikeasavlu passed the order ending the speculations over the fate of idol wing and its chief Pon Manickavel.
The arrests of Kapoor and, subsequently, a few others like Khader Basha, Sanjivi Ashokan, and Deenadayalan in the last few months have led to a standoff between the police and HR&CE Department, with the public backing police efforts to retrieve stolen and lost idols.
The idol wing’s progress in the theft and smuggling cases can be gauged by the fact that since 2012, it has recovered 878 idols, prevented the smuggling of over 850 idols abroad, and arrested over 100 accused.
One of the most important idols to be recovered is the 900-year-old dancing Shiva idol, stolen from Sripuranthan in 2006. This was handed over by former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited New Delhi in 2014.
The description of efforts at idol recovery thus far may make it look like it’s all been smooth sailing until now, but, in fact, the Tamil Nadu idol wing is one of the organisations that has come under severe pressure. Making its job tougher is the strange behaviour of the HR&CE Department.
Manickavel has helped crack over 50 cases and recovers 20 idols, including the two 1,000-year-old Chola bronzes that had been missing for over five decades. The idols of Rajaraja Chola and his queen, Lohamadevi, which went missing from the Brihadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur, were retrieved from a private museum in Ahmedabad.
On 31 May 2018, Manickavel and his team managed to get the idols back from the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, within 90 days of registering a complaint. These statues were estimated to be valued at over Rs 100 crore in the international market.
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