Theft at museum in high-security zone. The Museum is located in a high-security zone – just a stone’s throw from the Legislative Assembly and the Police Control Room – but had only six security guards on night duty. Two years ago a Bhoodevi stone sculpture had disappeared from the museum and two museum staff were suspended. Though officials refused to reveal the value of the stolen antiques, experts said they could be worth lakhs of rupees in the international market. Incidentally, several antique guns, Chinese vases and paintings were left untouched by the miscreants.
The security at the museum was non-existent. Anybody could jump the four-feet fence and gain access to a ramp built straight till the rear shutter of the Contemporary Art Gallery that was opened on Wednesday night. “The guards must have been sleeping, making it easy for the thieves,” a police officer said.
Though CCTV surveillance is in place, it has not been extended to the Contemporary Art Gallery. “Proposals have been sent to the government to get the CCTV facility. We are waiting for a reply,” AP State Museum assistant director B Vasudevachari said.
The State Museum, originally ‘Hyderabad Museum’, was started in 1930 by the Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan. It has a rich collection of over 14,000 gold coins, over a lakh coins of other materials and a rare collection of manuscripts, including copies of the ‘Holy Quran’.
Only the British Museum, London, can rival it in terms of the coin collections, experts said. The State Museum has been headless since November last year as the then director J Kedareswari was transferred out. In her place, Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) managing director Vikas Raj has been made in-charge director of the depository.
According to police, the thieves gained entry by lifting a shutter in the rear of the Contemporary Art Gallery. They then prised open the lock of the glass door of the ‘Period Gallery’ where 51 items belonging to 19th century Nizam era were on display.
“Two iron swords of three feet length, a spearhead and four mosquito net holders with silver inlay are missing from the gallery,” Vasudevachari told TOI .
In their attempt to steal the valuable pieces, the miscreants damaged an antique clock. They damaged the clock’s glass, removed its pendulum and tried to remove its bronze needles, but in the process could just manage to bend them.
A spear and two lion statues made of bronze were found near the damaged shutter. “They used the spear to lift the shutter and then threw it there, while the lion statues were too heavy to carry,” Saifabad inspector of police K V Ramnarasimha Reddy said.
The museum staff said the thieves had dropped a few ‘items’ outside the building while trying to get away. “We found small items such as a time piece near the shutter and placed it back in the gallery,” a museum employee said.
Though police ruled out the possibility of thieves having hid in the museum to carry out the theft, some museum officials were of the opinion that the shutter was opened from the inside. “The spear was bent because they opened the shutter from the inside,” a museum official, who requested anonymity, said.
Museum worker Mohammed Yousuf came to open the gate seal at 10.30 am and he was the first person to notice the opened shutter. He immediately informed the assistant director, who in turn called police and gallery in-charge.
Police have registered house breaking and theft cases under sections 457 and 380 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).