‘Odisha has turned a major hub of stolen idols’

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‘Odisha has turned a major hub of stolen idols’

Sunday, 16 February 2020 | PNS | BHUBANESWAR

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) held its annual State conveners’ conference on Friday. The conveners from different chapters expressed their grave concern on the rising cases of temple thefts in all over the State.

Digamber Mohanty of Bhadrak said the INTACH has brought to light many instances of idol theft and registered FIRs at police stations but to no avail. There have been 20 cases of theft in the last decade in Bhadrak district but not one single recovery made. 

State convener Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, a former DGP, lamented that there is an absolute lack of awareness and the authorities’ gross apathy regarding the intrinsic value of these idols which represent the rich cultural heritage of the State. The prevailing laws intended to prevent idol thefts and burglary are inherently ineffective. A holistic national heritage protection policy and system should be put in place. There is no true objective database for all the antiques, both stone and metallic idols, in about 22,000 ancient places of worship in Odisha. It is true that more than 95% of the antique idols in these temples remain legally unregistered as the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities remains incomplete.

Tripathy said that weak legislations like the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act and the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 are ineffective to curb these crimes. New legislation and amendments are the pressing needs of the hour. The State police should have a separate wing for dealing with such crimes.

Anil Dhir, who had recently made the report on the Antiquities of the Prachi Valley, said more than 300 valuable idols were found missing in the different places. He said idols which had been photographed and documented by scholars in the last three decades have vanished.

Dhir reported that nearly 48 FIRs had been filed in different police stations of the Prachi valley area in the last decade, but only one recovery has been made.

In the Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri and Lalitagiri, many votive stupas have been stolen.

Dhir said proper methods should be adopted as per international norms to discourage this rampant illegal trade. Metal idols should have laser markings as the base as evidence of ownership. In the event of theft, this will be evidence. The stone idols should have metallic engraving at base having the name of the temple and the place. The State Archaeology Department should develop a database by photographing and documenting the physical dimensions of the idols including their specific identifying features.

Last year, two Asthadhatu images dating back to the 11th Century were recovered by the Crime Branch from the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The decoy used by the police was asked to pay Rs 2.5 crore for them. 

Bhubaneswar convener Baikuntha Panigrahi said the INTACH has undertaken listing and documentation of monuments in all its chapters and published nearly two dozen reports.

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