The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday issued a Government Order, transferring all idol theft cases in the State to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In an immediate response, opposition leaders MK Stalin, Vaiko and Anbumani Ramadoss said there was an ulterior motive to shield higher-ups as court appointed Inspector of General Pon Manickavel was doing a splendid job.
Stalin said that the same government which had with alacrity handed over the idol theft cases to the CBI, refused to act in the Gutka cases in a similar way in which top Ministers, and officials were involved.
The Government told the Madras High Court on Wednesday that it had taken a policy decision to entrust the idol theft cases to the CBI as Manickavel was "not up to the mark and he had not filed progress report" since he was appointed IG of the Idol Wing by the court in July 2017.
Additional Advocate-General P H Aravind Pandian told a special bench of Justices R Mahadevan and P D Adikesavalu that the Government had taken a policy decision to hand over the cases to the CBI as the Idol Wing was on a collision course with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department .
The bench adjourned a writ petition in regard to idol theft cases to Aug 8 after directing the AAG to file detailed affidavit. After the court named Manickavel as the head of the Idol Wing of the CID, the government interfered by transferring him. The court overruled it and Supreme Court Justices S Bobde and L Nageswara Rao on Sept 1, 2017 confirmed the high court order.
Since then, the Government gave Manickavel pinpricks in other ways by denying staff and facilities. But the court intervened and directed to the Government to give Manickavel to give enough staff and facilities. When a public spat broke out between Manickavel and HR&CE Commissioner Jaya last June, the high court bench hearing the idol theft cases, made it clear that it will not brook any interference in the case.
The Government finally decided to transfer the cases from Manickavel to the CBI after the Idol wing cracked the whip against the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments. The immediate trigger was the arrest of M Kavitha (52), Additional Commissioner for H R & C E, in a case of misappropriation of gold in two idols of the Kancheepuram temple.
The arrest of the top official led to a protest in the H R & CE office in Chennai with the staff threatening to go on mass leave. They relented only after they were assured by Commissioner Jaya that she had taken it up with the Chief Minister and they would not be harassed.
The opposition has taken up cudgels on behalf of Pon Manickavel as he is an honest and efficient officer. He cracked over 50 cases and recovered 20 idols, the most precious being the idols of Raja Raja Chola and his consort Lokamadevi.