There seems to be no end to the auction of Chandigarh’s heritage furniture in foreign countries. Two out of four items designed by Swiss- French architect Le Corbusier and his associate Pierre Jeanneret again went under the hammer for a whopping Rs 27.85 lakh in an auction held in London.
A pair of ‘committee’ chairs, model no. PJ-SI-30-A, designed for the High Court and administrative buildings, was auctioned for 13,750 British pounds while a pair of advocate and press chairs designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, model no. LC/PJ-SI-41-A, designed for the High Court, went for 18,750 British pounds.
Recently, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) wrote to the Punjab government to initiate action under conduct rules against their official N P S Randhawa, former museum director, for his alleged transactions with a businessman accused of antique smuggling of furniture from Chandigarh.
Punjab Local Bodies and Cultural Affairs Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had written to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asking him to dismiss the official. Sidhu had told that the vigilance department is with the Chief Minister and it is he who can order an inquiry into the case. Sidhu even said that if nothing happens, he would get an FIR lodged in the case as Tourism Minister. Social Activist Ajay Jagga has been constantly writing about the auctions in advance to the higher authorities but to no avail.
Jagga has again written a letter to CBI director Alok Kumar Verma and Director General of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence Debi Prasad Dash to get the matter investigated and get this trafficking of culture heritage items stopped. “Despite giving advance intimation, the auction in London went peacefully and out of four, two lots were auctioned,” Jagga said in his letter.
The letter added, “Many auctions have taken place in the last about 10 years, so a heritage scam by foreign nationals, causing a huge loss to our government cannot be ruled out. You are requested to look into matter, on priority, in the larger interest of nation’s prestige and financial loss.”
Since 2011, 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. The UT Administration then formed a heritage protection committee but nothing was done.
Jagga suggested that an FIR be filed against all those involved in the auction. “What needs to be investigated is whether the heritage of Chandigarh reached USA through proper channels or not and whether the people — businessmen or auction houses — came to India on business visa and purchased the heritage items at throwaway prices,” he said.