Chennai: In what is perhaps the biggest haul of antique idols suspected to have been stolen from Tamil Nadu temples, the state Idol Wing CID police led by its ebullient IG Pon Manickavel on Thursday recovered 89 items valued at over Rs 100 crore from the residence of Ranvir Shah, garment exporter and founder of Prakriti foundation.
Fifty six idols, 22 granite sculptured pillars and 12 metal statues were removed from the house and taken in trucks to the idol wing office at Guindy for being transported later to the court premises in Kumbakonam where the case is being heard, according to Pon Manickavel, who seemed convinced that these were stolen from temples. “I have reasonable grounds to believe all these idols and artefacts are all stolen from Hindu temples in TN,” he told reporters.
However, his additional SP Ashok Natarajan said the origin of the seized items would be established only after investigating the relevant documents. “They (present owner Shah) have shown us some registration certificates that only prove they have bought the items from someone but there is no further evidence showing their actual origin, from where they came. We must investigate that”, said the additional SP.
SP furthrer said that it appeared that some of the items had been bought from Deenadayalan and some others from an antique dealer in Kerala and also from Puducherry. “We will serve notices to the dealers in Kerala and Puducherry and investigate further”, he said.
The Idol Wing had got a tip-off from Deenadayalan, the alleged kingpin behind the idol thefts and smuggling who was arrested in 2016, following which the Wing conducted probe into Shah's involvement in the case and about the presence of idols in his house. However, at that time, Shah had said he was in possession of all the requisite permission letters and registration papers to keep the idols and other artefacts.
Speaking to reporters after overseeing the searches conducted at Shah's house, IG Pon Manickavel said, “None in Tamil Nadu has been given licence to sell antique idols dating over 100 years. But this is happening and we are taking action. Even pillars have been stolen (from temples)”. He said the person from whose premises the idols have now been recovered “is a purchaser,” and any arrest in this matter would be done only if any “incrimination” was found on his part.
The Idol Wing CID has recently recovered a number of stolen idols, even as the Tamil Nadu government recommended a CBI probe into the matter citing the need to carry out inter-state and international probe into the matter. However, the CBI expressed inability to take up the probe citing shortage of manpower, and informed the Madras High Court in this regard. The Central agency, however, has assured all assistance to the state police in extradition of the accused or coordination with the Interpol among others.
The court had earlier set up a special bench of Justices R Mahadevan and PD Audikesavalu to deal with a batch of petitions. It had also reinstated Manickavel as the Idol Wing chief after he was transferred out by the government earlier, and asked him to continue to investigate the theft of idols from temples in the state over a period of time. At that point of time, the state government took the decision to transfer the cases to CBI, claiming the idol wing, headed by Manickavel, was not performing satisfactorily....