On Friday evening, an incensed Pon Manickavel stood at Palani in Dindugal district and tore into the Tamil Nadu government’s alleged lack of help in tracing the state’s stolen treasures. The Idol Wing head and retired IG announced that his department had found 20 idols stashed abroad with collectors and museums but red tape and ‘non-cooperation’, he said, delayed their retrieval.
“A Nataraja idol was sold to a museum in Adelaide in 2001 for Rs 30 crore. The museum was willing to return it. I had written to former DGP Rajendran nine months ago, requesting funds to bring back the idol. But it was delayed inordinately and the idol couldn’t be brought back. We are working under tremendous pressure with no funds and manpower. I have been spending from my own pocket and pension even for commuting and for food expenses of the team,” the officer told the waiting media.
However, multiple sources within the Idol Wing tell TNM that the delay in the release of funds is due to an active ‘cold war’ between the retired IG and newly appointed ADGP Abhay Kumar Singh, in the Idol Wing.
The ADGP was appointed by the government following Pon Manickavel’s retirement. However, upon his superannuation on November 30, 2018, the Madras High Court entrusted the former IG with the task of probing idol theft cases and let him remain as head of the Idol Wing-CID. The government approached the Supreme Court to fight this order, but the Apex court directed him to continue investigating and prosecuting in the pending cases and handle future cases in his tenure.
“How will the funds be released if the former IG doesn’t go through the necessary processes required?” asks one senior Idol Wing officer, on the condition of anonymity. “The ADGP should ideally write to the government and request for funds. So the Idol Wing head and ADGP have to cooperate with each other and approach the government. They can’t function exclusively and delay processes within the department. Since Pon Manickavel directly approached the government for funds, there are more bureaucratic delays,” he adds.
The senior officer points that the Idol Wing’s duty is to find and retrieve stolen idols and that politics within the department was extending work time on cases.
“We have traced the 20 idols to Australia, the US and Singapore. The government has to release funds to ensure retrieval of these idols. We have to take the cases further,” he adds.
Another officer, at the inspector level, says that the ‘cold war’ began the day the ADGP was appointed and that Idol Wing officers were suffering as a result.
“Even the newspaper delivery to our office has stopped because bills have not been paid,” he says.
Pon Manickavel too said on Friday that he hasn’t been allotted a typist even.
“I get work done by the team members. We are not even given basic computer equipment and we have had to buy them at our own expense,” he told the media.
When TNM contacted ADGP Abhay, he refused to respond to the allegations made by the former IG.
“He is the one filing case after case,” says the ADGP tersely. “I have nothing to say about funds.”