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India’s Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities – Issues and the way forward

From Current Affairs Notes for UPSC » Editorials & In-depths » This topic

Context: CAG in its 2013 Report stated that “131 antiquities were stolen from monuments/sites and 37 antiquities from Site Museums from 1981 to 2012″. There is an immediate need to build an inventory of antiquities as a first step in dealing with the problem.

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This topic of “India’s Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities – Issues and the way forward” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What are the measures taken up by worldwide organizations to deal with the theft?

The measures include:

  • Checking catalogues of the international auction house(s).
  • Posting news of such theft on websites.
  • Posting information about a theft in the International Art Loss Registry.
  • Sending photographs of stolen objects electronically to dealers and auction houses and intimate scholars in the field.

Efforts from India

  • India is a signatory to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
  • We ratified it in 1977.

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What does India lack?

  • India should also sign the 1995 UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.
  • CAG in its 2013 report also stated that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had never participated in or collected information on Indian antiquities put on sale at well-known international auction houses viz. Sotheby’s, Christie’s, etc. as there was no explicit provision in the AAT (Antiquities and Art Treasures) Act, 1972 for doing so.

What lessons can India learn from Italy?

  • Italy also suffers and several stolen antiquities have been returned by the US to Italy.

Some of the key takeaways and practices that can be considered from Italy:

  • A specific law on protecting cultural heritage, with enhanced penalties.
  • Centralised management before granting authorisation for archaeological research.
  • Specialisation in cultural heritage for public prosecutors.
  • An inter-ministerial committee for recovery and return of cultural objects.
  • MOUs and bilateral agreements with other countries and international organisations to prevent illegal trafficking.
  • Involvement of private organisations and individuals in protection.
  • A complete inventory of moveable and immoveable cultural heritage, with detailed catalogues;
  • Monitoring and inspection of cultural sites.
  • Centralised granting of export requests.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. Building an inventory of antiquities should be the first step in Solving India’s idol theft problem. Comment. (150 Words, 10 Marks)
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