DRI dossier on Vijay Nanda Judges’ chairs, minister’s table, all procured at leisure
Chairs of Punjab and Haryana High Court judges and tables from offices of Punjab’s ministers and the State Legislative Assembly are among the furniture designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanerette that has been smuggled out of the state by Vijay Nanda in connivance with government officials.
Several furniture items with descriptions identical to this list, such as “tree trunk coffee table” and “kangaroo chairs”, are now on display at Kukje Gallery in Seoul. It was Nanda who had sold these items for hefty amounts to the gallery. As per four invoices (dated July 11 and August 22, 2016), his New York-based company Sage Mercantile sold 19 items related to Chandigarh and Punjab’s heritage furniture to Kukje Gallery for Rs12.62 crore. These invoices were recovered by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) from Nanda during investigation and are the part of the DRI dossier, a copy of which is with The Tribune.
The maximum amount among these 19 items was fetched by a two-component “minister’s table”. As per Nanda’s invoice, it was made in 1958 for ministers and procured from the Punjab Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh. Nanda sold it off for USD 3.8 lakh (Rs2.43 crore) on August 22, 2016.
Similarly, two other items sold off as scrap by Punjabi University, Patiala, in 2014 and allegedly purchased by Punjab’s former Director, Archaeology & Museums, Navjot Pal Singh Randhawa, through Patiala-based scrap dealer Sandeep Singh Anand, fetched Rs2.43 crore. A library table fitted with a light from 1962 and another one with a removable top from 1966, of Punjabi University, Patiala, went for USD 1.71 lakh and USD 1.14 lakh, respectively. A “boomerang table” from the Assembly (1963-64) went for Rs70 lakh.
Most of these furniture items were later taken away in “four truckloads” and stored at Goel’s warehouse in Delhi. From there, the furniture was sold off to various auction houses across the world over the past couple of years. It happened despite the fact that in response to a PIL in 2011 the Chandigarh Administration had submitted to the High Court an inventory of heritage furniture in the city. The administration also gave an undertaking that it “is committed to protect and preserve” Chandigarh’s heritage. “It is shocking that despite such undertakings, smugglers took away furniture from judges’ chambers in the same court,” says Chandigarh-based advocate Ajay Jagga, who had filed the PIL.
Eye on Kashmir excavations too Nanda had his sights set on fresh excavation sites too. One instance, pertaining to Kashmir, came up during Devesh Goel’s interrogation. In his statement to the DRI, Goel said, “Somewhere in the last months of... 2015, Vijay Sir... informed me that in Kashmir, a few archaeological sites are being excavated and... antique bronze statues are recovered. He asked me to... somehow acquire the bronze statues. I made efforts to find out about these bronzes, however, I couldn’t find any contact in Kashmir.”
Within a span of one week in mid-February 2016, Nanda made two trips to Kashmir. Around the same period, Goel said Nanda had also asked him to get “any statues” from Mathura, where excavations were going on. Nanda also had a rare Kashmiri manuscript of “Mallari Mahatmya” from 1772 (originally a Marathi literary work). The manuscript had 84 illustrations and 275 folios. Nanda got it registered with the Archaeological Survey of India in 1994, claiming its source of acquisition to be a “family collection”. He gave it on loan to Prince of Wales Museum of Western Mumbai. Some of the items Nanda sold off to Kukje Gallery of Seoul, South Korea