NEW DELHI: Last year, a 1,000-year-old Yogini sculpture stolen from a temple in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh returned to India from Paris owing to the magnanimity of its current owner. However, thousands are still smuggled out of the country, and end up going under the hammer every year.
With the new government in place, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is making yet another effort to change the 40-year-old law that, instead of preventing smuggling, was leading to antiques being smuggled out of the country.
Sources said the ASI recently sought the help of legal firms to either draft a new law to replace the existing Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, or bring amendments in the existing legislation.
“The legislation is old and needs to be changed to make the registration clause of antiquities much simpler, allow for their sale and regulation within the country easier. Under the existing law, it’s a cumbersome procedure to register an antique, and then possess it. Even only the licensed persons could sell it. We hope to make the procedures simpler,” a senior Ministry of Culture (MoC) official told Express.
The ‘license raj’ under the Antiquities Act restricted the trade of artefacts within the country, thus leading to either smuggling of these items out of the country, or being sold surreptitiously. While there is no ban on the sale and purchase of items of archaeological importance in the private sector, necessary licence has to be obtained for the purpose. Once the rules are relaxed, it would lead to encouraging the domestic market dealing in antiquities, thus bringing the antiques out in the open, sources said. Officials said strict rules meant more pilferage of antiques from temples. After the rules are relaxed, it would better conservation also.
The Act terms all objects more than 100 years as antiquities, thus requiring registrations with the ASI. The ASI or police can raid a person who possesses an antique without registration. The new law would make it easier to possess one.
As per the National Mission for Monument and Antiquities, the country had approximately 70 lakh antiquities. Till May last year, only 4.8 lakh antiquities had been registered. Ironically, the government had been trying to amend the Act since 1987. The CAG, in its report last year, castigated the government over its no-show to amend the law.
The CAG suggested that the provisions of AAT Act and International Conventions should be reviewed in order to make the legislation more effective.