A senior official with Indian Museum has been missing for a month, his friends are linking it with scams he reportedly blew the whistle on, and his family has moved the Supreme Court seeking a CBI inquiry, leading to notices to the state government and the union ministries of culture and home.
Sunil Upadhyay, 35, head of the preservation department, went missing on July 3. The Kolkata police, who are currently probing the disappearance, have questioned several employees of the museum, including director B Venugopal.
In its petition, Upadhyay’s family has hinted he was kidnapped because of protesting irregularities, particularly fake artworks. A museum insider told The Indian Express Upadhyay had taken up at least three issues relating to scandals and mismanagement. One involved an alleged moneylending racket with employees as both lenders and borrowers. An employee committed suicide in 2010, and Upadhyay headed a probe committee set up six months ago. When the Mauryan Lion Capital was damaged last year due to what Upadhyay saw as a faulty method of shifting, he reportedly reprimanded some employees and threatened to take it up with the culture ministry. On July 1, days before he disappeared, the roof of the museum’s third floor caved in, flooding the mask gallery and damaging masks and other rare objects. Upadhyay reportedly took pictures to send to the ministry; the insider recounts a quarrel with other officials who reportedly asked him to delete the pictures.
The same day, he complained of chest pain and went to R N Tagore Hospital. The next day, he skipped office, and the day after, he disappeared.
Indian Museum has been mired in controversy for a decade. Governor Kesri Nath Tripathi, who is ex-officio chairman of the board of trustees, told The Indian Express, “I have received reports of irregularities inside the museum from various agencies… I am going through it and will take necessary action.”
Upadhyay’s friends in Delhi University, from where he has a PhD in chemistry, have formed a forum, “Friends of Sunil Upadhyay”. DU professor Nityanand Agasthy, who has set up the forum, said, “He pointed out so many irregularities at the museum, we suspect foul play. We met the Minister of State for Home and he has assured us help. We have moved the Supreme Court.”
Upadhyay, a bachelor, stayed with his cousin Saroj and his wife Sweta at Swiss Park in south Kolkata. A doctor at R N Tagore Hospital had diagnosed him with vertigo. On July 3, Sweta saw him going out, dressed in casuals. He was carrying only his purse and had left his mobile and medicines at home. Saroj and Sweta lodged a general diary the next day. On July 5, his two brothers, Anil Upadhyay, stationmaster of Sultanpur, and Rajesh Upadhyay, a businessman in Jaunpur, lodged a complaint with the missing persons squad at police headquarters. Four days later, they lodged a complaint with the museum director. It was only on July 19, 16 days after his disappearance, that Charu Market police station registered an FIR, which mentioned that “unknown persons have kidnapped” Upadhyay. The family has also met the governor.
“My brother protested against irregularities in the museum. The museum authorities are so insensitive; they have done nothing to find him. As soon as we find him, we will ask him to resign,” said Anil.
When The Indian Express contacted Upadhyay’s mother Tara Devi, 70, in Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district, she said over the phone: “Laut aao Sunil.”
Indian Museum spokesperson Sayan Bhattacharya said, “They have filed a case and the matter is pending with the court. The museum is sympathetic towards them. We have had nothing to do with the disappearance.”
Deputy Commissioner (South) Muralidhar Sharma admitted, “So far, we have not made headway.”