News Brief

Idol Theft Cases: What Made Madras High Court Warn The Tamil Nadu Police Chief

The Madras High Court asks state Police to cooperate with investigations.
Snapshot
  • The court was hearing a contempt of court petition filed by retired Inspector General of Police, A G Ponn Manickavel --- who is investigating the idol theft cases --- alleging that a state minister and top police officials were interfering in the idol theft cases.

On 9 November (Friday), the Madras High Court warned that the Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police (DGP) would face consequences if its directives in the idols theft cases were not adhered to in letter and spirit.

The court was hearing a contempt of court petition filed by retired Inspector General of Police, A G Ponn Manickavel -- who had been appointed as a special officer by the court in November 2018 to probe the idol theft cases -- alleging that a state minister and top police officials were interfering in the cases.

Before November last year, Manickavel had been given additional charge of the idol wing in July 2017, when he was heading the Tamil Nadu Railway Police.

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The court had given him the charge as, during his posting in the idol wing in 2012, he had recovered 1,129 stolen idols worth hundreds of crores of rupees.

J K Tripathy is the DGP currently, having taken over from T K Rajendran in June this year. The main reason for Manickavel to file the contempt petition is that he has not got support from the state government and police officials in the idol theft cases he is currently investigating.

Manickavel has been facing some sort of non-cooperation movement by the Tamil Nadu government.

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In particular, the state government is unhappy with the way Manickavel has cracked down on the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department officials for their complicity in the cases.

At least five former and current HR&CE officials have been arrested in connection with the idol theft cases. State officials and politicians belonging to the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) were, in particular, unhappy with the arrest of HR&CE additional commissioner, M Kavitha.

Before Kavitha could be arrested, Manickavel and his team were asked not to arrest her. Police reportedly got a call from a minister who wields considerable clout in the state government and the then chief secretary Girija Vaidyanathan’s office.

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Once Manickavel and his team went ahead with the arrest --- he was in service then ---the AIADMK government transferred the idol theft cases to the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI). However, the government’s order was struck down by the High Court.

At least twice before, the state government has appointed a superintendent of police as part of the idol-wing police force, including a woman officer currently. Manickavel has argued, in his contempt petition, that the state cannot make any changes in the idol-wing police force without the court’s consent.

The AIADMK government had also tried to provoke a few policemen working in the idol-wing to rebel, in vain.

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On the legal front, the state had been dragging its feet on appointing a pleader in the court for the case. On Friday, the state government told the court that senior counsel, Balaji Sreenivasan, would handle the case from now on.

Manickavel has complained to the court that he has got little help from the state police in probing the case.

For example, many idol theft cases registered in various parts of the state are yet to be transferred to the idol-wing section. Over 40 case diaries of idol theft cases that were supposed to be with various superintendents of police are missing.

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Manickavel’s counsel has complained that he is not being allowed to function as directed by the court and the state DGP has been acting contrary to the court’s direction. This is particularly true with the former DGP T K Rajendran, under whom the idol theft cases investigations failed to gather momentum.

The court has asked Manickavel to file an affidavit on this when the hearing resumes on Tuesday (12 November).

The court will also look into a plea from an advocate, “Elephant” Rajendran, who has pleaded that Manickavel provides details of the two ministers who were blocking the idol theft investigations, as alleged earlier by the latter in the court.

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Manickavel’s appointment as the special officer ends on 30 November and the state government is trying to buy time till then.

However, given the way the High Court has handled this case until now, his term will likely be extended.

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