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Smuggling of heritage furniture: UT begins probe into role of former director of Museum and Art Gallery

The UT Administration said on Thursday it was investigating how Randhawa, who was the UT Assistant Inspector General (Prisons) in 2008, was given additional charge as director of Museum and Art Gallery, giving him “easy access to UT’s heritage furniture”.

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh |
September 1, 2017 3:20:25 am
antiques smuggling, heritage furniture smuggling, DRI on antiques smuggling, Chandigarh Administration on antiques smuggling, indian express news  UT Administration said on Thursday it was investigating how Randhawa was given additional charge as director of Museum and Art Gallery, giving him “easy access to UT’s heritage furniture”. (File)

THE UT Administration on Wednesday began an official probe into the actions of N P S Randhawa, who is being investigated by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence for his alleged role in smuggling out heritage furniture from Chandigarh designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and his associate Pierre Jeanneret. As reported by The Indian Express on Thursday, DRI has written to the Punjab government asking it to initiate action against the official.

The UT Administration said on Thursday it was investigating how Randhawa, who was the UT Assistant Inspector General (Prisons) in 2008, was given additional charge as director of Museum and Art Gallery, giving him “easy access to UT’s heritage furniture”. A senior official of the Heritage Protection Cell, who knows about the inquiry said: “As museum director, he was the custodian of all our antiquities at our museum and it is possible that he may have misused his position. We are inquiring from all the officials who worked during that tenure under him. This is also strange that AIG prisons was given charge of the culture department.”

The official added, “We have been informed that while being in the post of AIG prisons, he would call for our furniture saying that the inmates are good furniture makers and would help in repairing the broken and worn-out stuff. We are working on this and officials have been asked to probe where the furniture went after being repaired.”

Since 2011, activist Ajay Jagga had been writing to the Chandigarh Administration to probe the disappearance of furniture designed by Corbusier and Jeanneret, and its appearance at auction houses in Europe and America, where each piece was sold for lakhs. Jagga said that when the Chandigarh authorities stopped listening to him, he wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office, Director Revenue Intelligence, ASI, CBI and Interpol to enquire about it.

In 2014, a heritage protection cell was constituted by UT of which Jagga was made a member. Jagga said that in April 2016, he even gave a complaint at the UT Police headquarters but was told by officers to get a DDR lodged and thereafter “kept mum”. The activist said he had been telling the officials that the furniture could not have gone abroad without official connivance.

An official of heritage department said: “Ever since the matter came to our light, our Home Secretary-level officers had been writing to all embassies to stop this but once it is sold, we can’t do anything. The matter of inquiry is to see if there is an export licence for it… and that doesn’t come under our control. Because till now, there is no law which speaks about its protection. The ASI says it deals with furniture which is over 100 years old.”

The case 

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has written to the Punjab government to initiate action under conduct rules against a senior government official for his alleged transactions with a businessman accused of antique smuggling of furniture from Chandigarh. According to a show-cause notice issued by DRI on August 4, Navjot Pal Singh Randhawa who was holding the charge of Director, Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Archaeology, Museums and Archives of Punjab as well until May this year before being transferred to the Defence Services Welfare department as Deputy Secretary, admitted in his statement to the agency that he “assisted” US-based Indian-origin businessman Vijay Nanda, accused of antique smuggling, “in procuring a few antiquities”.

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