Court declines to issue directive to Centre on Ravi Varma paintings

A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Wednesday declined to issue a directive to the Centre to acquire the four paintings of Raja Ravi Varma auctioned in New Delhi in November 2010 by a Bangalore-based fine arts auction house.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice P.R. Ramachandra Menon, however, said the matter deserved the attention of the Union government at a higher level.

The court refused to issue any directive on the ground that the Centre had not formulated an opinion whether the auctioned paintings should be preserved in a public place or not. The court pointed out that under section 19 of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, the Centre should formulate an opinion that a particular antiquity or art treasure should be preserved in a public place if such artefacts were to be acquired.

In the absence of such a view, the court could not straight away pass an order for acquisition as it involved payment of monetary compensation to a person from whom the paintings was sought to be acquired. The court said that such a financial commitment could not be made by the court without first clearly ascertaining the view of the Union government. The Centre did not unfortunately show any sense of urgency in the matter, the court observed.

The petition, filed by Archana Narayanan, a lawyer and great grand-niece of Raja Ravi Varma, sought a directive to the Centre to acquire the paintings.

The Archaeological Survey of India had said the provisions of the Antiquities Act did not empower the ASI to search and seize the unregistered articles declared as antiquities or art treasures. The registration certificate was issued to owners of such articles after verifying their source and genuineness.

Action could be taken only against those who have not registered their treasures. It was not possible to ascertain who possessed the paintings of Ravi Varma. The ASI had sought a CBI probe into the auctioning of some paintings to ascertain if the canvases were genuine. The auction house did not possess the mandatory licence required under the Act for dealing in antiquities.

The ASI had pointed out that the original certified paintings of Ravi Varma were with the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram. It said the role of ASI was to prevent the export of such art treasures and antiquities. There was no bar on sale of the same within the country. In fact, transfer of such art treasures was permissible under the Act. It was the responsibility of the State government to preserve and protect such paintings.

A writ petition filed by Ms. Archana, seeking a CBI probe into the disappearance of certain original paintings from the State government's custody, is pending before the court.

She alleged that records with the Kilimanoor Palace showed that over 75 paintings were handed over to the government. But only 55 were displayed at the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, which is managed by the Directorate of Museums and Zoo.

  • “Centre should formulate an opinion whether to keep the paintings in public place or not”
  • The auction house did not possess the mandatory licence for dealing in antiquities: ASI

Recommended for you