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CBI takes over Buddha probe
- Police doubtful about exact date of head theft at museum

Six days have elapsed since December 29, when the Fifth Century Buddha head was reported missing from Indian Museum. Since the police have failed to make any headway, on Monday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee decided to hand over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said the state government had written to the Centre to initiate the process of the CBI takeover.

'We have taken this step since Indian Museum is the government of India's property and also because of the magnitude of the crime,' Deb said.

The CBI has already alerted Interpol about the theft.

The priceless sculpture was kept in a glass case in the museum's Archaeology Long Gallery.

City police raised doubts about the exact date of the theft. 'We have strong doubts about the time when the museum authorities are claiming the theft took place. It could have happened on the previous day or any other day,' said an officer working on the case.

'According to the authorities, the theft took place between 12.30 pm and 1.15 pm, when a number of visitors, including students of the Indian Art College, were present in the gallery. Why should the culprit(s) take so much of a risk when it is common knowledge that only a handful of people visit the gallery in the early hours' he asked.

Detectives felt that the theft could not have occurred in a single day. 'Whoever the culprits are, they studied the glass case in which the artefact was kept. Our experts, who studied the case, have confirmed that the thieve(s) tampered with the glass panel not only very slowly but also very neatly. We, however, have no idea about the culprit(s), because the closed-circuit television of this gallery was not working,' they reasoned.

Earlier in the day, asked whether the state government will seek help from outside to crack the case, chief minister Bhattacharjee said: 'We will accept help from anybody willing to offer it.'

Home secretary Deb said the government was seeking the CBI's help because its force had not made much headway on its own. 'We had sought a CBI probe into the theft of the Nobel prize medal at Santiniketan, too. At that time, we had asked the CBI to take over four days after the crime. Basically, we want a multi-agency probe,' he pointed out

About whether the Interpol will be called in, Deb said the government would do so if it felt the need for Interpol intervention. The detective department, which was probing the theft, would help the CBI in the investigation, he added.

The home secretary said the security system at Indian Museum and galleries elsewhere was being reviewed.

'There were definitely lapses in the security, or such a theft could not have taken place. We did not expect something like this could happen,' he said, adding that a professional gang seemed to have had a hand in the crime.

Deb, however, said that the the involvement of an international gang in the crime could not be established.

He added that the museum security was handled primarily by the museum staff, while the state government provided only 'peripheral security' on the premises.

Director-general of state police Shyamal Dutta said some people had been detained for questioning after police conducted raids throughout the state, but refused to elaborate on the operation.

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