Time to hew a new antiquities law

Time to hew a new antiquities law

News:

  1. The article discusses about the outdated Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 and holistic regulation and conservation of our civilisational history.

Important Facts:

  1. Background: The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 has long outlived the purpose for which it was drafted.
  2. About the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act:
  • It was enacted in 1972 with an objective to control the export business in the treasures of antiquities and sculptures, to necessarily acquire antiquities and sculpture for conservation etc.
  • It also aimed to avoid smuggling and fraudulent commercial activities in the antiques.
  • The Act defines the term ‘antiquity’ as any sculpture, coin, epigraphs of images, other crafts and art separated from caves or structures or the articles which represents science, expertise, literature, tradition, religion and political affairs from the olden ages.
  • The Act makes it unlawful except the Central Government or the authorized person to export the objects that are historic or art treasure.
  • The central government is authorised to appoint a licencing officer who grants licences to persons who wish to carry on commercial of antiquitie.
  • The export of the antiquity shall be guided by The Customs Act of 1962 which prohibits such export.
  • The Central Government shall also forcibly get hold of the antiquities if it considers essential by recompensing the owner.
  1. Loopholes:
  • Single agency for conservation: The whole task of conserving civilisational history contained in antiques and artefacts has been given to single archaeological agency.
  • It does not include other important components of conservation groups as littérateurs, historians, anthropologists and curators etc. which provide valuable insights into our material culture.
  • Cumbersome registration procedure: Registering antiquities with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has long been a difficult procedure for most collectors, with the state simply not equipped to handle the needs of a growing populace of collectors.
  • 100 year rule: The rule that every object over a 100 years is an antique is not desirable as with every passing year, the number of objects that shift from 99th year to a 100 year status will result in the transfer of vast numbers of objects to a status of national antiquity.
  • Criteria for artefact: To ascribe importance by virtue of religious sentiment, age to every significant and insignificant work of art will result in a myopic view towards our history.
  • Other issues: Cultural vigilantism and the presumption of guilt without trial, public shaming and the resultant media trial have led to a state of affairs that is dangerous — casting a long shadow on the production of knowledge of our past.
  1. Way forward:
  • The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 has consequently long outlived the purpose for which it was drafted.
  • The agenda to preserve India’s material culture which was under threat after independence like material heritage no longer fits in with the requirements, reality and needs of a modern-day state that seeks to understand its past.
  • A new law thus should be framed with the conjunction of all disciplines like historians, anthropologists and curators along with the archeological agency.
  • The private connoisseurship, individual collectors, trusts and foundations should be bought within the legal process of buying and governing the  acquisition of artefacts etc.
  • An urgent amendment to existing laws is thus a need of the hour to save our material culture from being examined purely from the prism of religious sentiment and to foster the creation of secular spaces where everyone can enjoy and appreciate our past.
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