Dushyant Singh Pundir
Chandigarh, November 29
The UT Administration needs to set its own house in order, said a French police officer on the issue of pilferage of heritage items from Chandigarh to other countries.
Fabrice Cotelle, Police Commissioner, Police Attache, French Embassy in India, said the UT first needed to investigate the cases of theft of heritage furniture thoroughly and then take up the issue with the government concerned through the Ministry of External Affairs to stop the auction of such items on foreign lands.
- In November last year, a 10-member team of French experts had visited the city to suggest ways to preserve UT heritage.
- Senior UT officials and the French experts discussed the plan of action for protection, preservation and restoration of city’s heritage items.
- Several suggestions for handling heritage items were given to the Administration by the team. The Administration had also made many promises but nothing happened for a year.
- Fabrice Cotelle, Police Commissioner, Police Attache, French Embassy in India, who was part of the delegation, said there were many levels of talks. Many important decisions were taken, but things slowed down since then, due to which he had to come to Chandigarh again.
A total of eight cases related to theft of heritage furniture are pending in Chandigarh. In a follow-up to the meeting of a French delegation with the UT Administration in November last year, Cotelle visited the city and called on the UT DGP and the SSP to seek their assistance in checking smuggling of heritage items from the city.
During the meeting, the UT officers assured to mutually share information and bring evidence on record and then formally explore the legal channel to stop the smuggling of heritage items.
Ajay Jagga, a member of the Heritage Items Protection Cell of the Chandigarh Administration, who accompanied the police commissioner, said after investigation, Indian courts would be asked to make auction houses party in the case so that auction of heritage items could be stopped.
In November last year, a team of experts from France had arrived in the city on a five-day visit to suggest ways to preserve UT heritage. Senior UT officials and the French experts discussed the plan of action for protection, preservation and restoration of city’s heritage items. The 10-member team was headed by Brigittee Bouvier, Director, Fondation Le Corbusier, and was sent by the French ministry.
Several suggestions for handling heritage items were given to the Administration by the team. The Administration had also made many promises but nothing happened for a year.
Cotelle said a year ago, he had met UT officials. There were many levels of talks. Many important decisions were also taken, but since then things slowed down, due to which he had to come to Chandigarh again.
Cotelle also raised questions on the Union Home Ministry’s order issued in 2011. He said the order was needed to be strengthened.
He said he had also sought the CBI’s intervention in the matter, but the agency refused as it had the mandate to investigate the theft of antique items, but the heritage items of Chandigarh do not come under the category of antique items.
Cotelle said the French government was very serious on protecting the UT heritage items. The French Embassy had written a letter to the Punjab Chief Minister in March. Later, it was learnt that the letter should have been written to the UT Administrator and not the Punjab CM. “Therefore, the Embassy will soon write a letter to the Administrator. Many issues related to heritage will be raised, including strengthening of the 2011 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, identifying heritage furniture and arranging for its protection,” he added.
As per a list compiled in 2012 by the Chandigarh Heritage Inventory Committee, the UT has 12,793 heritage items made and used by French architect Le Corbusier, his cousin and Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret and others associated with the founding and planning of Chandigarh in the 1950s and 60s. A large number of these items are with the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Sector 10, besides a huge stock of chairs and tables are at the Punjab and Haryana Secretariat and Vidhan Sabha and the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Since 1990s, heritage furniture, made primarily from locally available materials like teak, sheesham and cane, has been finding its way to auction houses of various countries, despite a 2011 order by the MHA, banning the sale and export of Chandigarh’s heritage furniture.
In 2021, the Central Government, through the ASI, had also issued orders to all ports (sea or air) to prevent the export of such articles, but the heritage articles continue to crop up in international auctions.
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