Chandigarh, proudly touted as a “Smart City”, with its supposedly astute police force well-versed in managing chaotic situations, appears to have fallen remarkably short in a different domain. In this tale of negligence and misplaced priorities, it is evident that even amidst the disappearance and auction of precious heritage furniture—crafted by none other than “Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret”—the Administrator of Chandigarh remains more engrossed in delving into “Punjab Matters” than in safeguarding the very essence of Chandigarh. Over the past two years, “Heritage Furniture of Chandigarh” worth a staggering Rs 15 crore have mysteriously found their way onto foreign shores. Astonishingly, the Chandigarh administration received prior notifications about these auctions, yet it seems its attention was steadfastly fixed elsewhere.
Shockingly, the Chandigarh Administration was repeatedly tipped off about these auctions, but it seems they had other, more pressing matters to attend to. In their latest escapade, 20 priceless pieces of furniture vanished into thin air, only to magically reappear in a foreign land, ready to be auctioned off.
“But wait, it gets better. These heritage gems, the pride of Chandigarh, were sold off in France for a cool Rs 3.81 crore,” said senior advocate Ajay Jagga, who has made it a habit to inform the Chandigarh Administration about these auctions well in advance. Jagga has even been a member of the Heritage Committee.
Just picture this: a table designed by the legendary architect Pierre Jeanneret for Panjab University went for an astonishing Rs 70.1 lakh. And there’s more! A set of ten box chairs, also Jeanneret’s handiwork, was happily handed over for Rs 36.8 lakh.
There are other masterpieces that have bid adieu to their homeland. A pair of easy armchairs, a storage cabinet, and a bunch of other pieces—all now living the “high life” abroad. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Chandigarh Administration has let cherished possessions slip away. Last year, they outdid themselves by parting with 29 heritage items for Rs 4 crore.
Oh, and don’t forget the auction in Barcelona, Spain, where an easy chair designed by Jeanneret himself found a new home. Chandigarh’s loss, Spain’s gain, right?
The Chandigarh Administration has consistently failed to protect cultural heritage, which has meant the world getting a piece of Chandigarh, one auction at a time.
Ajay Jagga told The Sunday Guardian, “The issue of heritage articles of Chandigarh has been raised at every level throughout the 18-year journey (2005-2023) of tracking auctions and seeking restrictions or prohibition on auctions in countries like the USA, UK, France, Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, etc. I raised the issue with the Chandigarh Administration, the Government of Punjab, the Archaeological Survey of India, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Home Minister (being in charge of U.T), the Panjab University Vice-Chancellor, the Punjab Engineering College, PGIMER, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce, the Indian Embassy in Paris, London, Chicago, New York, the Vice-President’s Secretariat (being the Chancellor of Panjab University), the Ministry of Culture, Judicial-Police Authorities in France, the Ministry of Culture in Luxembourg, the C.B.I, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, and so on, including the media. So, the work is ongoing.”
“I filed a PIL in 2011-12, which was heard and decided by the then Chief Justice of the High Court, Mr Ranjan Gogoi. The post of the Adviser is very relevant and important at the local level, and in this regard, the most responsive and quick officer was Vijay Dev, IAS, the former Adviser-UT. In 2016, he constituted the Heritage Item Protection Cell of UT for the protection of these items. Even Parimal Rai, the former Adviser, was the most helpful bureaucrat, as during his tenure, the police FIR was lodged for the theft of P.U Furniture.”
“As for the Administrator, V.P.S Badnore has been the best, as he used to call directly and discuss the matter regarding the involvement of the French for the protection of these items. Even the media in France is quite active, as they have also interviewed me in detail, twice, and published these interviews in French magazines like Society. But still, we are far from achieving the desired results,” Jagga said. “The last entity to contact is the Rajya Sabha Secretary General, as I filed a Public Petition in the Rajya Sabha, seeking their help in framing proper rules and regulations for the protection of heritage. The response of ASI has been very lukewarm, as they simply refused to help, saying this is not within their purview, given that the items are less than 75 years old. Anyway, the efforts are ongoing and will continue. I remember Winston Churchill’s words: ‘Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.’”