In fresh trouble for a senior government official, Navjot Pal Singh Randhawa, who in dock for his alleged role in smuggling of antiques, Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh has ordered an inquiry along with a drive to identify the antique articles missing from Punjab museums.
Randhawa was Director of Tourism, Cultural Affairs, Archaeology, Museums and Archives of Punjab till May this year, after which he was shifted to Defence Services Welfare Department. The move against him comes in the wake of Director Revenue Intelligence (DRI) writing to Punjab government to initiate action against the PCS officer based on interrogation of various persons accused for smuggling antiques from Punjab.
Punjab Minister of Local Bodies, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Navjot Singh Sidhu told The Indian Express that the government had forwarded the case to his department. “We will soon be identifying what all is missing. We have sought help from National Archaeological Museum in New Delhi to assign some experts to help us identify. Otherwise, we cannot do it on our own. We will need expert help. We should be able to do it within a month’s time.” He added the DRI had sent a 1042-page report to the state government that includes a list of antiques smuggled out of the country and sold for princely amounts.
“We are in the process of preparing an inventory. We will then match what is missing or was auctioned in scrap. We will be able to nail the guilty. I will not spare anyone and will take strong action. This is treason,” he said.
Sidhu said soon after taking over as the minister, he found something amiss, “I was shocked when Randhawa did not open the Sangrur museum during our visit to the place. He had the keys with him. All the exhibits were locked in a single room by him. He unlocked it only when I insisted. It is not possible for me to find out what all is missing. We are now in the process of matching our records.” Sidhu suspects a nexus of “powerful persons” behind the entire smuggling. “He cannot be doing it single-handed. We will unearth the nexus. Nobody will be spared.”
He added there were several miniature paintings in Punjab museums which were worth crores. “If somebody replaces the original with a fake, we would not know. That is why we need experts. They will come and tell us. We will take DRI’s help also. They have goven us a CD also which I have passed on to my officers. They are working on it,” he said.
Randhawa was issued a showcause notice by DRI on August 4. He had reportedly admitted in his statement to the agency that he “assisted” Vijay Nanda, a businessman accused of smuggling antiques, “in procuring a few antiquities”. Randhawa is posted as Deputy Secretary Defence Services Welfare since May.