On 30 November 2018, a Division Bench comprising Justices Mahadevan and Audikesavalu, showered accolades on AG.Pon Manickavel IPS as follows :
“The credibility of the officer is evident from the fact he has been fair and impartial in his actions. This Court is also satisfied with the procedure followed by him in securing the accused. It was also brought to the knowledge of this Court, that even recently, more than 250 idols were unearthed by him based on the information received from credible sources. Some idols were also recovered during transit. He has been able to keep the informants intact and show tremendous progress.
All the above facts and the manner in which the investigation is taken up by Mr.A.G.Pon Manickavel, I.P.S and his team without any fear, favour, partiality or bias only reposes our faith in the officer and his team. Therefore, under the above circumstances, we are of the view that Mr.A.G.Pon Manickavel, I.P.S in the cadre of Inspector General of Police on his superannuation on 30.11.2018 must continue to head and investigate the theft cases relating to idols and the properties, to facilitate not only continuity but also for proper investigation.”
After just stopping short of conferring Pon Manickavel with a medal for meritorious service, the Madras HC, extended his service by ordering thus : “Mr.A.G.Pon Manickavel, I.P.S, Inspector General of Police is hereby appointed as a Special Officer to head Idol Wing-CID, Chennai to deal with the cases of theft of idols and antiques in all stages, for a period of one year, who shall assume charge on his superannuation on 30.11.2018 forthwith and function from the same camp with the same facilities. The Government shall pass orders to that effect. It is made clear that any delay by the Government in passing appropriate orders, shall not curtail the powers of Mr.A.G.Pon Manickavel, I.P.S. to head the team and investigate the cases and take appropriate action as per law”
Is there any truth in the accolades showered by the Madras High Court on Pon Manicvkavel ? Let us see.
Pon Manickavel is a Group I officer who joined Tamil Nadu Police service as a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Right from his service as Dy. Supdt. Of Police, his service was marred with numerous allegations of corruption and malpractice. Pon Manickavel got married in Madurai when he served as DSP, Ramanathapuram. Jaffer Sait IPS was the then SP of Ramanathapuram. State intelligence wing received inputs that several smugglers belonging to Keelakarai, Ramanathapuram districts have met Pon Manickavel a day before his marriage and gave costly gifts. This was viewed by the Intelligence wing as pecuniary advantage. The intelligence wing alerted Jaffer Sait about the developments and sought a discreet report from him, which he sent in the affirmative.
One Pandian based in Chennai was an auditor and was involved in real estate business. He was involved in many shady land dealings. Selva Perunthagai @ Selvam formerly of Viduthalai Siruthaigal Party and now in Congress was a friend of Pandian who had several financial dealings with Pandian. Pandian was murdered on 2nd April 1996.
During the course of the murder trial, it came to light that Pon Manickavel was very friendly with the deceased Pandian. It also came to light that deceased Pandian and Thilakavathy, wife of Pon Manickavel jointly operated a locker in Bank of India, T.Nagar branch. Pandian was murdered on 2 April 1996. On 4th April 1996, just two days after the murder, Thilakavathy, wife of Pon Manickavel closed the locker account and emptied the contents. No probe whatsoever was made into the circumstances Thilakavathy opened a joint locker with Pandian, a shady operator and why she hurriedly emptied the locker. The Manager of the concerned branch of IOB was also not examined.
During the course of the trial, it also came to light that Pon Manickavel on the night of the murder of the said Pandian had been having alcohol well past midnight. It was after Pon Manickavel left, Pandian was murdered.
The case ended in acquittal of all accused. The trial court Judge, cited non examination of Pon Manickavel, his wife Thilakavathy and the Bank Manager of IOB where the joint locker account was maintained by Thilakavathy, with the deceased Pandian as the main reason for acquittal.
During 1997 Pon Manickavel worked as DSP, Special Branch (Intelligence) at Chengalpattu.
On 27 August 1997, in Mangadu PS limits, there was a murder for gain. An old woman was murdered and 193 sovereigns of gold and diamond jewels were looted. An FIR in Cr. No. 638/97 u/s 120-B, 449, 461, 302, 294 and 109 IPC was registered and investigation taken up. The main accused in the case one Justin was secured immediately on 31 August 1997 and he confessed to the crime and also to the fact that he had buried the jewels he had looted in a vacant plot. Sub-Inspector Karuppaiah took the accused to the spot and recovered the entire jewels.
However, Karuppaiah, instead of taking the accused to the Mangadu PS where the FIR is pending, informed the Special Branch DSP Pon Manickavel over phone who directed him to come and meet him in Sri Ramachandra Medical College Hospital, Porur, Chennai. Pon Manickavel took the accused Justin and SI Karuppaiah to SRMC hospital security room, whereas a police station and lock up were available in the same premises. HeRS got a plastic bag from SI Karuppaiah and transferred some of the jewels to the bag.
Later Pon Manickavel took accused along with Karuppaiah and sent away the driver of government vehicle TN 22 G 0087 Nainar Mohamnmed. Pon Manickavel himself drove the vehicle and proceeded to Valasaravakkam PS and reached the station at 11.45 PM. He again left with accused and SI and returned back after 45 minutes and declared that case property has been recovered.
These facts are corroborated by the statements of Gr. I PC 1770 Subramani and Gr I PC 2651 Lawrence. As per the Manual of Instructions for Special Branch 1972, as Special Branch DSP, Pon Manickavel is not supposed to conduct any investigation but he should only assist the local police.
As soon as Pon Manickavel got the information about the recovery of case property, he should have alerted the concerned jurisdictional DSP and Inspector to take over the investigation.
Following the missing case property, a separate FIR in Cr. No. 24/97 u/s 406, 409, 424 r/w 165 IPC was registered against SI Karuppaiah in District Crime Branch, St Thomas Mount. Later the investigation was transferred to Crime Branch CID. The Investigation Officer of CB.CID held in his report thus : “At the time of recovery of jewels by S.I Karuppaiah or while handing over the property to the Inspector of Police, Mangadu by DSP Pon Manickavel at Valasaravakkam P.S no list was prepared and therefore it is only the SI Karuppiah and DSP Pon Manickavel are responsible for the missing items”
He further held that “Both Pon Manickavel and Karuppaiah had stage managed the show which clearly shows that they had their own part to play in the missing of the items recovered”.
However the CB.CID DSP held that, the missing jewels could not be traced and recommended to close the case as “undetected”. However, he recommended departmental action against both Pon Manickavel and Karuppaiah for various omissions and commissions on their part.
Sources in intelligence circles say that Pon Manickavel shared part of the jewelry he took away with Sasikala, close aide of Jayalalitha.
In the year 2006, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption registered a Detailed Enquiry against Pon Manickavel in DE 111/2006/POL/HQ. Totally around 14 allegations were taken up. And DSP Krishnasamy, who completed the investigation held 6 allegations as proved and recommended departmental disciplinary proceedings against Pon Manickavel. But, this recommendation was not acted upon by the government and there was inordinate delay in framing charges. Utilising this delay, Pon Manickavel approached the Central Administrative Tribunal and got the charges quashed against him. The charges against Pon Manickavel were quashed purely on technical grounds and not on merits.
This is the gem, which the Madras High Court has found to entrust omnibus investigation of all idol theft cases.
Lets now see how Pon Manickavel has performed in the anti idol theft wing.
To put things in perspective, Tamil Nadu has a rich tradition of age old temples with statues of artistic value. But, absolutely no one has any idea of the number of idols, period, location, etc. There is no record of these statues, even with the Hindu Religious Endowments department.
This is the case with the Rajaraja Chozhan idol also, which the ace detective Pon Manickavel brought back from Gujarat with absolute fanfare in May 2018. Pon Manickavel declared proudly that in spite of all efforts to bring back the Chozha idol in the past, none succeeded and only he was able to do it.
But the truth is otherwise. Rajaraja Chozha idols went missing from the Brahadeeswarar temple in the sixties. When Thilakavathy IPS headed the Crime Branch CID, on receipt of information that a chozha idol is available in a private museum at Gujarat, a team of police officials along with an archaeologist and expert in chozha scriptures visited the museum. The museum authorities, showed the police team a receipt for purchase of the idol from Diwan of Travancore and denied that they were the stolen Chozha idols. The professor of Archaeology, inspected the idol and informed the police team that the idol is not original and a replica. The police team convinced and returned to Chennai. This happened in the year 2010. It is the same idol, which Pon Manickavel has claims as a prize catch. Retired DGP, Thilakavathy, confirmed this incident. Thilakavathy added, “Several were seized during my short tenure and its not true that the idol wing has started working only after Pon Manickavel was posted”.
Several idols were seized in India and brought back from several foreign countries during the tenures of Thilakavathy, SK.Dogra and Archana Ramasundaram. Even in the late eighties and early nineties, idols were brought back to India by officers like KK.Rajasekaran Nair and several others.
In August 2018, Sarabhai foundation, from where Pon Manickavel seized the Chozha idols, filed a petition in the Madras High Court that the idols which were seized by Pon Manickavel were not stolen and they had obtained it legally from Diwan of Travancore in the year 1942. As early as in 1938, the idols, now claimed by Pon Manickavel to have been stolen from Tamil Nadu have been documented and its photographs were published in the Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Arts. The idols were purchased by the foundation for a sale consideration of Rs,.45,000/- by way of a cheque of Imperial Bank of India. But, ace detective Pon Manickavel claims that these idols are worth Rs.60 crores.
Idol theft do take place in Tamil Nadu. But all the idols that are stolen and sent abroad are not antique. During digging of wells, desilting of lakes and ploughing fields, several idols are discovered from various places in Tamil Nadu. The due course of action on discovery of a idol is to inform the revenue authorities. In many cases greedy people, who discover the idols, try to sell them to middlemen / brokers. Some of the idol brokers are Lachu @ Lakshmi Narasimman, Oomaithurai, Anna Durai, Marichami and Sanjivi Asokan. These people roam across Tamil Nadu and locate the idols discovered or stolen from temples which they buy for a pittance. They in turn send the idols to perennial idol dealer Dheenadayalan. Dheenadayalan in turn sell the statues to icon / idol dealers based in Mumbai viz, 1) Aditya Prakash and 2) Vallabhai Prakash. It is these Prakash brothers, who send the statues abroad through Subash Kapoor, international idol dealer.
Subash Kapoor has the international contacts and wherewithal to smuggle the idols clandestinely out of India and sell it to private collectors and private museums. Dheenadayalan has been dealing with Subash Kapoor for more than a decade and has sold several antique idols. But, curiously, Pon Manickavel, has chosen to turn Dheenadayalan, one of the kingpins as an approver and state witness.
Sources in Idol Wing indicate that Dheeadayalan is in the personal custody of Pon Manickavel and the 200 odd police personnel in the idol wing do not know the identity or whereabouts of Dheenadayalan. On and off, Pon Manickavel will suddenly produce a confession of Dheenadayalan wherein he would have implicated some Tom, Dick or Harry that they are into idol smuggling. The police personnel working under Pon Manickavel would be forced to make arrests without conducting any proper investigation. This is the manner in which all the cases are filed in idol wing and the court being hoodwinked, say sources in Idol wing.
Whenever, the case with regard to idol wing comes up for hearing before the Madras HC, Pon Manickavel will enact a drama and create news that high value statue are seized.
Similar is the case of Sakthivel. Sakthivel is a scrap dealer. One Dheenadayalan a resident of Porur, made himself a Astalakshmi statue at a workshop in Nerkundram for Rs.70,000/- and started worshiping the same at his house. But misfortune struck and he suffered huge financial difficulties. Believing that the statue had brought bad luck to him, he sold it to a scrap dealer. When the scrap dealer Sakthivel tried to sell the Lakshmi statue. Pon Manickavel’s informer Mani, contacted Sakthivel and told him that a party is willing to buy the statue for 50,000. A greedy Sakthivel, went to sell the statue and collect the money. Pon Manickavel, with his team arrested the scrap dealer and announced to the press that the state is of antique value worth several crores. Justice Mahadevan was immensely impressed by the theatrics of his gem.
In November 2017, Pon Manickavel arrested Maniraj, Gajendran and Chandrasekar. They had purchased a Shivling and Nandhi idols from Rajasthan and tried to sell the same claiming it to be antique idols made of valuable stone. Pon Manickavel stormed the lodge they were staying in and arrested all the three. Immediately, even without sending the idols for forensic analysis, Pon Manickavel declared the idols to be 7 crores. The forensic / scientific report of the idols seized declared the idols as “Children’s toy”.
Veeracholapuram is a village in Villupuram district. Certain idols were missing from a temple in the village for several decades. According to villagers, the idols went missing in the year 1960. The temple priest Sorna Gurukkal, and Varadharajan, Ganapathy Asari, and Pichaikuppa Mudaliyar stole the idols of Thir\ipurasundarar & Thirupurasundari. Though the idols were stolen, no complaint was launched since it had happened in 1960. Getting wind of this incident, Pon Manickavel instructed one Elephant Rajendran, a tout in Advocate cloak to file a complaint in this regard. No one knows what is the locus for the said Elephant Rajendran and how he came to know of the theft of idol in 1960. However, Pon Manickavel instructed his officers to file an FIR and a case in Cr. No. 2/2018 was registered. Though an Inspector was the Investigative Officer in this case, Pon Manickavel gave a statement of Dheenadayalan (approver in Pon Manickavel’s custody) implicating Subash Kapoor and directed the Inspector to sign it. He also instructed the Inspector to implicate one Vallaba Prakash, mentioned above as an accused. When the Inspector refused to sign the statement, Pon Manickavel threatened the Inspector with arrest and incarceration. Sources say, the said Inspector has filed a written complaint with the DGP in this regard.
In Thiruvadanai, Ramanathapuram District, during the desilting of a shrimp lake, a statue was found. After discussion, the farm owner decided to hand over the statue to revenue authorities. The discovery of the statue was reported in local media. Pon Manickavel, hearing this, went with his team, of course with the press and declared gleefully that another antique idol was seized from smugglers and declared the value of the statue to be Rs.6 crores.
In Vellode village, Erode District a temple with idols was lying idle for several decade. The villagers decided to take the idols and construct a temple with the idols and sought the permission of HR & CE department. Permission was granted, and the HR & CE formed a committee comprising 10 villagers for construction of temple with the old idols. A local RSS man filed a complaint in this regard with Pon Manickavel. Pon Manickavel, removed the idol from the newly constructed temple and arrested and remanded all the 10 committee members of that village.
In regard to Palani Murugan temple, during Jayalalitha’s tenure in 2004, it was decided to erect a new Murugan statue as the condition of the old statue is fast deteriorating. So it was decided to make a statue weighing 200 Kgs of metal with 10 Kgs of gold. Jayalalitha donated 48 grams of gold for this purpose.
An RSS fellow made a complaint that the statue is fast blackening and the quantity of gold could be less. A case was registered and the statue was seized and sent for analysis. On analysis it was found that the statue weighed 221 Kgs and gold was in excess of 10% originally intended. Pon Manickavel, twisted the story that a total of 150 Kgs of gold was collected and was misappropriated by Muthiah Sthapathi. He was arrested in March 2018.
Apart from arresting innocent villagers like this, Pon Manickavel started arresting senior officials of HR & CE. Following allegations of misappropriation of gold while making statues, HR & CE officials decided not to include gold while making statues and issued written orders in this regard. A statue of Somaskandar at Kancheepuram was to be made under the guidance of HR & CE. Thirumagal, Additional Commissioner of HR & CE, issued instructions not to include gold. Kavitha, Joint Commissioner of HR & CE also issued orders in this regard.
News was planted in media by Pon Manickavel that over 100 Kgs of gold was misappropriated in the making of Somaskandar statue. JC Kavitha issued a statement that HR & CE has taken a policy decision not to include gold in making Panchaloga idols. Pon Manickavel immediately implicated Kavitha in the FIR and arrested her. Similarly Pon Manickavel also arrested Thirumagal, in spite of her being granted conditional bail by Supreme Court.
An officer who had worked in Idol Wing for more than five years told that only due to the resistance of officers to carry out the illegal instructions of Pon Manickavel, several Temple Executive Officers are not arrested. He said, Pon Manickavel wanted at least 20 Executive Officers to be arrested even without any evidence.
A senior IPS officer on condition of anonymity informed the author that, Pon Manickavel all along his service, had used his close proximity with the Mannargudi Mafia clan particularly VK.Sasikala. In fact, as DIG, Sasikala made Pon Manickavel, chief of Intelligence in 2011. He added, Pon Manickavel never obeyed the instructions of superior officers and behaved like a rogue cop. His proximity to the Mannargudi clan alone protected him so far, but for which he would have long ago removed from service, if not arrested.
All the above facts are borne on records. If the High Court is really interested in knowing the reputation of Pon Manickavel, Additional Advocate General Arvind Pandian would have readily obliged. But, the High Court is not inclined to really know who Pon Manickavel is, but too eager to shower accolades on him.
It is clearly visible to the naked eye that during his stint in Idol Wing for the past six years, Pon Manickavel has not filed charge sheet in a single case and is on an arrest spree. Most of the cases which he boasts of huge seizure are fake which would not stand judicial scrutiny.
Even recently, former CJI Madan B. Lokur in a judgment ruled, “Another important facet of our criminal jurisprudence is that the grant of bail is the general rule and putting a person in jail or in a prison or in a correction home is an exception. Unfortunately, some of these basic principles appear to have been lost sight of with the result that more and more persons are being incarcerated and for longer periods. This does not do any good to our criminal jurisprudence or to our society”
But, while Pon Manickavel goes on an arrest spree and arresting poor people, senior government officials whimsically, the Madras High Court is blissfully turning a Nelson’s eye. High Court being the custodian of the constitution, should ensure that arrest is used as a last resort. But, the High Court seems to be relishing the high profile arrests by this clown.
There are several police officers in TN police with exceptional investigative skills and impeccable integrity. But it’s a very very sorry and pathetic state of affairs that High Court has chosen to back a rogue who is wreaking havoc on several people’s lives and breeding indiscipline in police force.
On 1st December 2018, Abhay Kumar Singh, IPS, ADGP, who was appointed as chief of idol wing after Pon Manickavel’s retirement assumed office and removed the name board of Pon Manickavel and installed his name board. An hour after he left, Pon Manickavel visited Idol wing office, removed Abhay Kumar Singh’s name board, installed a new name board, as “Special Officer, appointed by Hon’ble High Court of Madras”, locked the room and took away the key instead of handing it over in control room.
Now, serving ADGP Abhay Kumar Singh is sitting in a DSP’s room and retired person Pon Manickavel is occupying ADGP’s room.
The continuance of Pon Manickavel everyday is breeding indiscipline in the force and sending out a wrong signal.
A senior police officer on condition of anonymity opined that “The episode of extension to IGP Pon.Manickavel will become a bad precedent in future.
The police department is administered with well defined acts and rules, getting extension for DGP by posting the officer in the last day of employment and getting extension through High court are giving wrong guidelines to the junior officers.
Criticising a police officer in an open forum and helping for that will lead to indiscipline in the department. Due to the infighting in the department the idol theft cases will lead to acquittal in courts. Foisting false cases lead to corruption.”
Wise words. Hope, Lordships sitting in ivory towers, see the stark reality.