Trouble is mounting for India's national carrier after reports said paintings worth over Rs 750 crore went missing from Air India's Mumbai headquarters on Thursday.
The paintings included work by prominent artists such as MF Husain and Jatin Das. "They were kept in a hall in the Air India headquarters," reported The Quint.
While Air India has not yet confirmed media reports, it has initiated an inquiry to verify allegation about the theft of paintings from its vast collection. "As regards the painting mentioned... the matter is being inquired into and details should also be available shortly," the airline said in a statement.
Sources told India Today, the paintings could have gone off the radar and entered the black market for famous works when the airport terminus building was shifted.Mystery of the missing paintings
The theft came to light after painter Jatin Das was contacted by a curator to verify a piece of work he had done for Air India prior to its sale. Das had painted it in 1991 and till a few years ago, it was hanging at the Air India lounge in the International Airport in Mumbai. Das claimed that one of his paintings commissioned by Air India had gone missing and was available on the open market, which, he said, could be a result of "indifference, negligence and theft".The horizontal oil painting is titled 'Flying Apsara'. It was commissioned in 1991 by Air India.
Das is now looking for answers on how a 3 feet x 6 feet painting reached the art market when it was part of Air India's collection.
"Jatin Das has recently written a letter (June 24, 2017) to the CMD (Air India) asking for photographs and details of the paintings in our collection that were made by him," Air India said in a statement.
"This information is being compiled and would be sent to him shortly."
India Today, quoting sources, said Air India at one time had 7,000 odd paintings and artefacts, and the ongoing audit has so far tracked only 3,500 odd pieces in the Mumbai headquarter of Air India and in other Air India offices, according to India Today.
The allegation of missing artworks against the national carrier come at a time the Cabinet has given an in-principle approval for disinvestment of Air India, which is under a debt of Rs 52,000 crore.Air India Museum
Two years ago, Air India had decided to throw open for public viewing the wealth of paintings and artefacts it had collected over the past six decades in its offices in India and across the world. The collections included works by the biggest names of Indian art including Arpana Caur, Anjolie Ela Menon, B Prabha, KA Ara, MF Husain and V S Gaitonde.
Earlier this year, Air India chairman and managing director (CMD) Ashwani Lohani had said that the museum was likely to be inaugurated on Independence Day 2017 and that it would be dedicated to the nation. However, The Economics Times reported last month that the plan to house museum in its Nariman Point tower has been shelved.