The Telegraph Metro report on March 2, 2011
Calcutta, Oct. 18: The principal of the Government College of Art & Craft who organised an exhibition of fake Tagore paintings last year has been chargesheeted and suspended in a unique case that has sprung back to life.
Coinciding with the higher education department’s action, New Market police have converted a complaint into a first information report against Dipali Bhattacharya, the suspended principal; Jogen Chowdhury, the eminent artist who had bought one of the fake paintings; and Jayanta Banerjee, a Dhanbad-based businessman from whose collection the paintings reached the exhibition.
Told about the FIR, Chowdhury said: “Those who have dragged my name into this could not have very honourable intentions. I have never been involved in any negative or wrong activity, leave alone criminal activity. I had just collected only one painting and I was cheated. How can I be brought down to the same level as the other two persons named in the FIR?”
The higher education department has said Bhattacharya “is further restrained from doing her normal duties in the college and also directed not to leave the country without the prior permission of the state government”.
The government’s letter asking the college, located on the Indian Museum premises, to suspend the principal did not specify any reason. The details are expected to figure in the documents the institute has sent during the day to Bhattacharya, who is scheduled to retire on December 31.
The letter dated October 17 and signed by the higher education department’s law officer asked Jayanta Chaudhuri, the officer in charge of the college, to initiate suspension proceedings against the principal.
Late tonight, Bhattacharya confirmed that she had received the documents from the college and made a reference to the erstwhile Left government. “Yes, I have received the letters. They are not very harsh. The government has changed and I had sought permission from the then education minister for everything. I will have to produce those letters.”
Bhattacharya had organised the exhibition of 20 purported Tagore paintings — later proved to be fakes by a probe panel — at the college from February 27 to March 8, 2011, to commemorate the poet’s 150th birth anniversary.
On March 2, 2011, The Telegraph had reported extensively on the controversy, quoting veteran art critic Pranabranjan Roy as saying that the paintings displayed at the central Calcutta institute were counterfeit.
The expose prompted sculptor Tapas Sarkar to file a petition in Calcutta High Court, leading to the first probe in India into a dispute relating to an art treasure under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.
R. Siva Kumar, a Kala Bhavan professor at Visva-Bharati, too, had pronounced the paintings fake after seeing their digital images. He had warned Bhattacharya against holding the exhibition but she went ahead. In the face of a chorus of criticism from the art world, she had maintained that the paintings were genuine.
On September 28, the high court had expressed annoyance at the state government’s apparent reluctance to take action in the matter and said that it would hear the case after the Pujas.
The government has now appointed a disciplinary officer, Deepak Ranjan Mandal, who will conduct the proceedings related to the suspension order.
Another flank was opened today with the police acting on a student’s complaint that mentions three teachers of the art college as witnesses. The complaint named principal Bhattacharya, painter Chowdhury and businessman Banerjee.
The police initially invoked Section 425 (II) of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with mischief committed by an accused affecting property belonging to the person who had originally created it, and Section 469, which addresses forgery for the purpose of harming reputation.
The two charges are bailable, which means the police station itself could have granted bail in case of arrest.
However, two non-bailable sections, which require court intervention for bail, were slapped later. The new sections are 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property).
The police received the complaint from the student, Tamal Krishna Goswami, on Tuesday. The complainant demanded that the passports of the three persons be confiscated.
Since Chowdhury is an artist of international repute, police sources said the matter was treated with extreme caution. “We conducted a preliminary inquiry. After we concluded that it demanded proper investigation, an FIR was drawn up,” said an officer.
“Our superiors instructed us on Wednesday night to register an FIR. But there is no instruction so far on arresting the accused,” the officer said tonight.
Chowdhury was also involved in the show on behalf of the Kolkata International Foundation for Arts, Literature and Culture and his name was mentioned on the invitation card.
UK-based Tagore scholar, Ketaki Kusari Dyson, who unhesitatingly dismissed the paintings as fake when The Telegraph had mailed the images to her, said today: “This mystery must be probed and it should be pursued to the end. Everything must come out in the open and nothing must be concealed. To know Rabindranath’s art better, we must know the authentic from the counterfeit. Unfortunately, artists themselves are involved.”
Artist Suvaprasanna, known to be close to the chief minister, said: “The fakes she (Bhattacharya) displayed last year were ugly copies. The archives of the art college used to have sketches by some of its eminent students. All of them have disappeared.”