The recent felling of a tree in the estate housing the museum of Russian painter Nicholas Roerich has put the spotlight on the Russian-Indian International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT), specially at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Russia.
The chopping of a cedar came to light when the memorial trust, in Naggar in the Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh, hosted a Russo-Indian cultural festival in the second week of October to mark Roerich's 139th birth anniversary.
"Especially outrageous and alarming is the fact that such a blatantly cynical act, recognized in the state of Himachal-Pradesh as a crime, was committed by a caretaker of the estate - one of those people who are directly responsible for the safety of the memorial," Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin told IANS.
"The embassy will insist that local authorities conduct a thorough investigation into this incident. The guilty must be punished," Kadakin said.
The particular variety of tree has sacred significance in the region as its name "Deodar", meaning timber of the gods, implies.
Local media has reported witnesses as saying that the felled tree was strong and healthy, and that such a cedar could fetch about Rs.400,000 (around $6,500).
Forest department officials from the Kulu Valley have reportedly confirmed that the caretaker had applied for permission to cut down the tree, which the department had refused.
The Russian ambassador, who is one of the founders of the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) and its current vice president, said the IRMT has decided to sack the caretaker.
Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena came to the western Himalayas in late 1928 after their Central-Asian expedition and bought a house in Naggar. The IRMT was founded in July 1992.
India considers Roerich's heritage as a joint legacy with Russia and is ready to undertake measures to preserve it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told news agency ITAR-TASS on the eve of his official visit to Russia.
New Delhi, October 21, 2013