The heirs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the Kohinoor to the British as “voluntary compensation” to cover the expenses of the Anglo-Sikh Wars, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday.
The Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by an NGO, All India Human Rights & Social Justice Front, on whether the government intends to make a bid to get back the Kohinoor.
Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur that if “we start claiming the treasures from the museums of other countries, they will claim their treasures from our museums.”
To this, Chief Justice Thakur said: “This country has never colonised other nations.” Mr. Kumar agreed with the Bench that precious artefacts in Indian museums were gifts.
He narrated the journey of one of the world’s most famous diamonds from Indian shores to find a place of pride in the Crown jewels of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Kumar referred to a letter written by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956 about the Kohinoor.
However, Chief Justice Thakur stopped short of dismissing the petition, reasoning that a dismissal now would probably harm the ongoing or future efforts by the government to reclaim the diamond.
“If there is a legitimate claim for the diamond, will our dismissal at this stage come in your way? Because the country which holds the diamond may say your Supreme Court itself has dismissed a petition to re-claim the diamond, so why should we entertain you [the Government of India]?” Chief Justice Thakur told the Solicitor-General.
The Bench further asked Mr. Kumar to file a comprehensive affidavit covering all possible dimensions of the matter after consulting the Ministry of External Affairs and the Union Ministry of Culture. The court then posted the case after six weeks.
During a visit to India, British Prime Minister David Cameron was reported by the media to have ruled out handing back the 105-carat Kohinoor. The diamond is on display at the Tower of London.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Thakur enquired whether Tipu Sultan’s sword was brought back to India.
Mr. Kumar responded that the “gentleman” who had bought it had left the country.