Chennai: Seeking to counter the accusations of the idol wing police in the idol theft cases ‘indicating’ the role of certain HR & CE officials, and appearing to assuage public ire, as well, the Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR & CE) department has sought a detailed probe in all the cases and also an expose on the mastermind Subash Kapoor's link with the theft cases in the state.
As the wrangle between the two departments prolongs, the question uppermost in the minds of many devotees is where have the temple idols gone and who will shoulder the responsibility to bring the Gods and Goddesses back. “There ought to be some mechanism or action plan to trace the culprits and bring them to book. The dispute between temple authorities and Idol Wing police should not prevent the idols from being brought back,” says N. Srinivasan, a devotee.
The report by the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) raised concerns over the trend and revealed that “security lapses” had led to the theft or loss of 37 art objects from site museums run by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and 131 antiquities from monuments and sites themselves over the past 50 years. Many of these antiquities had eventually emerged at sales conducted by prominent auction houses abroad. “We noticed several examples of antiquities of national importance being sold and displayed abroad,” the CAG report said.
Raising several pertinent issues, the Madras high court judge Justice R. Mahadevan had rightly pointed out that the HR & CE department is the custodian of most of the temples and the properties including the idols belonging to them. The idols cannot be smuggled unless there is a misdeclaration, which will warrant action by the DRI and customs authorities against the exporter. This court, he said, has not come across even a single case where the persons involved in the smuggling of idols out of the country have been independently prosecuted under the customs act, 1962 and the Finance Act, 1994 as the act would be per se constitute an independent offences under such acts.
Citing an incident in November 2017, a senior HR & CE official said the idol wing police nabbed three persons from Erode and recovered Maragathalingam and a Maragatha Nandhi and that the press were informed that the two images were stolen from 1,200 years old temple in Tiruchengode and worth over Rs 7 crore. “How could the Idol Wing police declare the antiquity and value of idols without the authorised experts’ opinion? But later the police claimed that the idols are found to be made of ordinary green stone and no Maragatha idols were missing from the temples in Tiruchengode,” the HR & CE official said.
In February last year the idol wing nabbed a gang at Manjakuppam in Cuddalore district and recovered one Vinayagar idol stolen from an ancient temple at Mayiladuthurai which was declared worth Rs 4 crore. But so far the origin of the idol could not be traced, the official claimed and said a fair investigation is the need of the hour to restore the lost ‘wealth’ of our temples....