Antiquities abroad : What Indian, international laws say?
Context- An investigation by The Indian Express, in association with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Finance Uncovered, has found that the catalog 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.
(Credits- The Diplomat)
What is antiquity?
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, implemented on April 1, 1976, 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 international conventions say?
- The UNESCO 1970 Convention 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.”
- After that, in 2000, the General Assembly of the UN and the UN Security Council in 2015 and 2016 also raised concerns on the issue. An INTERPOL report in 2019 said that almost 50 years after the UNESCO convention, “the illicit international traffic of cultural items and related offences is sadly increasingly prolific.”
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.
- UNESCO convention, prompted the government to enact The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (AATA), implemented from April 1, 1976.
- The AATA 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). After the AATA was implemented, the Centre asked traders in antiquities and art objects to declare their possessions of antiquities.
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.
How is ownership proved?
- The UNESCO 1970 declaration stated that, “The requesting Party shall furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return.”
- The first thing in order to prove the ownership is the complaint (FIR) filed with the police. In India, the problem with missing antiquities is that in many cases, there is no FIR. But other proof, like details mentioned by reputed scholars in research papers etc., also work.
- Under section 14(3) of the AATA, “Every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity” shall register such antiquity before the registering officer “and obtain a certificate in token of such registration.”
- So far, the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities, launched in March 2007, has registered 3.52 lakh antiquities among the 16.70 lakh it has documented, to help in “effective check” of illegal activities.
Conclusion- Antiquities represent a nation’s culture and heritage. Hence, their effective recovery and maintenance is required to preserve the nation’s culture.
Source- Indian Express
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Syllabus- GS-1; Art and Culture