French dealer Eric Touchaleaume was not on the list of the scrap dealers registered with the Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA), allowed to participate in its auctions for buying surplus, obsolete or unserviceable items. He was also not physically present during the auction and no agent represented him on the day (September 21, 1999). Yet, he managed to buy 73 pieces of furniture from the CCA.
The auction also appeared to be stage-managed and especially conducted for Eric.
During his visit to the CCA in the first week of April 1999, Eric exhibited interest in buying old, wooden furniture. However, as he was not a registered scrap dealer with the college, he could not officially bid for the auction, in case it took place.
It was only after the Frenchman managed to get permission from the UT administration to bid along with the others that the process of open auction was initialised. Eventually, he procured furniture in absentia.
“Eric approached me for buying furniture kept in the college. As he was not a registered scrap dealer with the CCA, I told him to take permission from the administration to be allowed to participate in the auction,” said the then principal of the college, Lt Col IJS Bakshi (retd).
“He got permission from the administration and was allowed to bid,” he added.
On the reference of then UT adviser Jagdish Sagar’s note dated April 18, 1999, (in which Eric got the permission to bid), home secretary memo no: 3657- 1 H (1) -99/8408 dated May 4,1999, and Eric’s proposal dated June 15, 1999, regarding requirement of furniture designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, a three-member committee was formed to work out details — such as items that were surplus, unserviceable, used and to be kept in the office.
On September 17, 1999, it was decided to auction the furniture. The same day, a notice was formulated for the auction to be held on September 21. This notice was sent to all nine scrap dealers registered with the CCA. There was no word on whether any official intimation of the auction had been given to Eric.
Yet, Eric managed to know beforehand the furniture that would be written off during the auction and even the number of pieces. On September 9, his Indian agent, in a written communication to the CCA principal, quoted the prices for the items that went for open auction. He got these for the same price.
NO REPRESENTATION OF ERIC ON AUCTION DAY
Only five scrap dealers — Jai Bhagwan, Anil Waste Paper Store, Amrit Lal, Phool Chand and Goyal Paper Store — turned up on the auction day. Details of the proceedings show that Eric won the bids for five items — cross-leg chairs (18), stools (48), office tables (3), architect tables (2) and draft tables (2), all for Rs 24,600. Bhagwan won the bid for 32 drafting tables with iron legs for Rs 11,000. There were signatures of all bidders on the proceedings, while there is no signature of Eric under the biddings column.
The amount which he quoted on September 9, 1999, was there in his bidding column. The price he quoted was in Indian rupees on the bidding column; a paper with the prices he quoted (in US dollars) was stapled.
“I remember that I won some drafting tables with iron legs in an auction held at the CCA. I am sure that there was no whiteskinned man present at the auction,” said Bhagwan, who purchased 32 drafting tables. “I do not remember whether there were other items,” he added.