ASI Dusts Antique Law to Save and Conserve Heritage
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 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, 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 law 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 possess it. Only the licensed persons could sell it. We hope to make the procedures simpler,” a senior Ministry of Culture (MoC) official told The Sunday Standard.
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.
Officials said that strict rules meant more pilferage of antiques from temples. After the rules are relaxed, it would better conservation. The Act terms all objects more than 100 years as antiquity thus requiring registrations with the ASI. The ASI or police can raid a person who possesses an antiquity without registration. The new law would make it easy 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 has been trying to amend the Act since 1987. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report last year castigated the government over no-show to amend the law.
A draft cabinet note was also approved by the Cabinet in 2003. The MoC set up a committee under RN Mishra in 2011, followed by the committee headed by Justice (Retd.) Mukul Mudgal in the same year. The committee submitted recommendations for carrying out amendments in the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, but owing to differences, it could not be adopted. The CAG suggested that the provisions of AAT Act and the International Conventions should be reviewed in order to make the legislation more contemporary and effective and to facilitate restoration of stolen art objects from other countries. “We found that the ASI had never participated or collected information on Indian antiquities put on sale at well-known international auction houses—Sotheby’s, Christie’s—as there was no explicit provision in the AAT Act, 1972 for doing so. We noticed several examples of antiquities of national importance being sold and displayed abroad. (Idol of Saraswati pertaining to King Bhoj is in British Museum, London),” CAG said.
The Old Law
■The existing Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972 makes it cumbersome to register an antique, and possess it.
■The ‘License raj’ under the Act restricts the trade of artefacts within the country, leading to either smuggling of these items out of the country or being sold surreptitiously.
■The ASI or police can raid a person who possesses an antiquity without registration.
The Proposed Act
■Once the rules are relaxed, it would lead to encouraging the domestic market dealing in antiquities. It would better conservation also.
The new law would make it easy to possess antiquities.
■The CAG had suggested that the provisions of the Act and the International Conventions should be reviewed in order to make the legislation more contemporary and effective and to facilitate restoration of stolen art objects from other countries.