The Tamil Nadu government submitted to the Madras High Court on Wednesday that all cases pertaining to idol theft will be transferred to the CBI from the Idol Wing. All future cases will also be handled by the CBI, the government told the court.
Speaking for the state government, Additional Advocate General PH Arvindh Pandian said that the Idol Wing headed by Inspector General Ponn Manickavel was not functioning effectively and hadn’t submitted any reports in the past one year.
Ponn Manickavel was instrumental in retrieving two 1,000-year-old idols: One of Raja Raja Chola I and one of his queen, Lokamadevi, from Gujarat. The statues had been stolen from Thanjavur and sold to the Calico Museum in Gujarat The statues are estimated to value more than Rs 100 crore, thanks to their make and antiquity. The team had alleged that higher officials of the temple were involved in the theft.
In July, the Madras High Court pulled up the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department for not doing enough to safeguard the properties and idols of temples under its control.
In June, Justice R Mahadevan also questioned the HR&CE Department about not having provided strongrooms in its temples to safeguard antique idols.
In the same hearing, Ponn Manickavel alleged that the department was not cooperating with the Idol Wing in its probe of idol theft cases. He stated that his superiors were reducing the number of people working under him, and that some of his team members were being transferred frequently. He also said that he was being asked to share case diaries and investigation details, which he suspected would be “passed on”. To this the judge assured the I-G that neither his superiors not the government would be able to make a decision without the court’s consent.
Currently, the hearing of the case has been adjourned to August 8.