Laws for Antiquities in India
Polity & Governance
17th Mar, 2023
In an investigation by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Finance, it has been found that the catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, includes at least 77 items with links to Subhash Kapoor, who is serving a 10-year jail term in Tamil Nadu for smuggling antiquities.
What is an antiquity?
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 defined “antiquity” as “any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship; any article, object or thing detached from a building or cave; any article, object or thing illustrative of science, art, crafts, literature, religion, customs, morals or politics in bygone ages; any article, object or thing of historical interest” that has been in existence for not less than ‘one hundred years’.
For manuscript, record or other document which is of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value, this duration is not less than ‘seventy-five years’.
What do Indian laws say?
- In India, Item-67 of the Union List, Item-12 of the State List, and Item-40 of the Concurrent List of the Constitution deal with the country’s heritage.
Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (AATA):
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (AATA) was implemented from April 1, 1976.
- The Act states, “It shall not be lawful for any person, other than the Central Government or any authority or agency authorised by the Central Government in this behalf, to export any antiquity or art treasure.”
- No person shall, himself or by any other person on his behalf, carry on the business of selling or offering to sell any antiquity except under and in accordance with the terms and conditions of a licence.
- This licence is granted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
What is ‘provenance’ of an antiquity?
“Provenance includes the list of all owners from the time the object left its maker’s possession to the time it was acquired by the current owner.”
Can India bring back antiquities?
- There are three categories to take note of:
- Antiquities taken out of India pre-independence;
- Those which were taken out since independence until March 1976, i.e. before the implementation of AATA; and
- Antiquities taken out of the country since April 1976.
- For items in the first two categories, requests have to be raised bilaterally or on international fora.
- For instance, the Maharashtra government on November 10, 2022 announced it was working to bring back the sword of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj from London.
- This sword was given to Edward, the Prince of Wales (the later King Edward VII) by Shivaji IV in 1875-76.
- Several antiquities, from Vagdevi of Dhar (MP), to the Kohinoor diamond, to Amaravati marbles to the Sultanganj Buddha to antiquities related to Rani Laxmibai and Tipu Sultan, are currently abroad.
- Antiquities in the second and third categories can be retrieved easily by raising an issue bilaterally with proof of ownership and with the help of the UNESCO convention.
- The UNESCO 1970 Convention is based on “the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property defined “cultural property” as the property designated by countries having “importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science.”
- The Declaration further said that “the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country’s cultural property.”