Corbusier heritage being auctioned off – How Chandigarh is losing its pride of possession

Artifacts designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret continue to get smuggled out and auctioned in the West

Artifacts designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret continue to get smuggled out and auctioned in the West
Artifacts designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret continue to get smuggled out and auctioned in the West

Even as Prime Minister Modi brings back our Gods (he brought back about 200 idols from America, thanks to the efforts of India Pride Project), artifacts continue to disappear from India. A huge number of items, prepared by the Chandigarh Administration from the creator of City of Chandigarh, i.e. world renowned Architect Mon Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, are being auctioned in USA and France (mainly) on a regular basis without any fear of law enforcement agencies, for more than ten years. Now recently the auction has spread to the other parts of the world such Berlin (Germany) and even Tel Aviv.

The upcoming auction by Treadway Toomey, a US based auction house, is auctioning off `20th century art and design‘ that includes furniture designed by architect Pierre Jeanneret, cousin of Le Corbusier, on September 10. A total  of about 25 pieces of furniture, having an estimated price of $55,000 (around Rs 37 lakh), and designed by Jeanneret during his stay in Chandigarh, will go under the hammer. How do these artifacts magically appear in auction houses in the West? I have a theory…

Either the foreign auction houses (or their conduits) come to India on a Business VISA and buy cultural items and then ship it abroad or come here on a Tourist VISA and took the goods in violation of the Commercial/ Import/ Export laws and then exported it illegally. Most of the time, these items are bought for a few hundred Indian Rupees and get auctioned for millions abroad. And this is happening for the past 10 years or more.

Ifirst reported this to the Administrator, Chandigarh Administration and Adviser to Administrator, Chandigarh Administration and thereafter a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the High Court, which was heard by the Court but the Chandigarh Administration made a statement that they will take care and the case was disposed of. But the matter never ended and auctions continued.

Then the matter was reported to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), as Chandigarh being a Union territory is directly controlled by the MHA but nothing happened. Then the matter was filed as a grievance matter with the Prime Ministers’ Office (PMO). The PMO responded back and wrote to the Administration to look into the matter, but nothing happened.

Subsequently the matter was reported to Superintendent of Police (SP), (Anti Corruption branch) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Chandigarh the premier investigation agency of India. The matter was referred to them because the issue of trafficking pertains not only to India but abroad as well, and the Chandigarh Administration and Police is helpless as they don’t have access to the foreign countries and only CBI has the access.

First time, I personally met the SP and explained him that we losing lakhs every month apart from the fact that it is a matter of national prestige that our heritage is being auctioned abroad without any fear of law and no resistance is put by the Indian Authorities.

Further, 5/ 6 more auctions were reported, in advance, to the CBI, but nothing happened. Then it struck me that the matter has international ramifications, so I approached the Interpol Wing of the CBI. The matter was reported to Interpol. The Interpol wing of CBI issued a direction to the The Director, Bureau of Investigation, Punjab, Chandigarh vide their reference no. Americas/1/25/2016/726 O Dated 25/04/2016 with a copy to me, asking them that they should look into the matter if any co-operation is needed from Interpol, they may be asked. I could understand immediately that Interpol will take up the matter only when their own agency will ask them to do so. In the same communication the CBI requested me to also approach the local police. So I met the SSP of Chandigarh police with the CBI letter and the details thereof and they go a Daily Diary Register) DDR registered on the basis of the my representation and gave me a receipt thereof. A DDR is a non-cognizable offence and the Police will take action if directed to do so by a Magistrate.

To be continued…

1. The conversion rate used in this article is 1 USD = 67.27 Rupees.
2. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.


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