Nothing prevents India from seeking the return of the Kohinoor diamond, which left Indian shores in the early 1850s and is currently embedded in the crown of the British monarch, a Parliamentary Standing Committee deliberating on heritage theft has noted in its report.
The report on ‘Heritage Theft – The Illegal Trade in Indian Antiquities and the Challenges of Retrieving and Safeguarding Our Tangible Cultural Heritage’ was adopted last Monday by the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture headed by YSR Congress MP Vijay Sai Reddy.
The committee began its deliberations on the subject with Culture Ministry officials, who reportedly said that while efforts were being taken to bring in stolen artefacts, the case of Kohinoor is contentious since it was surrendered by Maharaja Dalip Singh as part of the 1849 peace treaty with the British.
Ministry officials noted that India does not have legal competence to demand the return of the diamond. Under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972 the Archaeological Survey of India takes up the issue of retrieval of only such antiquities that have been illegally exported out of the country.
The Culture Ministry’s stand is consistent with its 2016 affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, where it had said that the diamond cannot be reclaimed as it was given as a gift. However, in the face of public outrage, the Ministry backtracked and issued a vague statement: “With regard to the Kohinoor diamond too, Government of India remains hopeful for an amicable outcome whereby India gets back a valued piece of art with strong roots in India”.
The only available recourse is diplomatic negotiations with the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Culture also stated that from 1976 onwards, 242 antiquities lodged in museums in foreign countries and private collections have been restored to India.
The Ministry of External Affairs, which was represented by the Secretary, Economic Relations, said that all efforts were being taken to bring back the Kohinoor diamond, though no details were provided to the committee on what these steps were.
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To cap the deliberations, the panel also met Law Secretary Niten Chandra to understand if the case could be legally pursued. Sources said Mr. Chandra had informed the panel that, “a combined reading of Articles 7 and 15 of the 1970 UNESCO convention indicates that the convention does not prevent state parties from entering special agreements for the restitution of removed cultural properties”.
Based on the deliberations, the panel has urged the Ministry of Culture to “follow global practice and make all efforts to ensure precious historical artefacts are returned”.
“Nothing prevents India from seeking return of Kohinoor and other antiquities that were removed prior to Indian Independence,” the report noted.