The Central Information Commission (CIC) recently directed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Culture to intimate an RTI applicant about the efforts taken by it to reclaim ancient artifacts like the Koh-i-Noor diamond and Tipu Sultan’s sword, preferably within a month.
Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu also suggested that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should start publishing alerts, photographs and FIRs about thefts of antiques from historical sites to make their smuggling difficult. To this end, he directed that a centralised public documentation system containing the details and photographs of stolen antiques be set up by the ASI.
The CIC was hearing an Appeal filed by one BKSR Ayyangar, who had sought information regarding the efforts made by the Government of India for bringing back to India (i) Koh-i-Noor diamond, (ii) Sultanganj Buddha, (iii) Nassak Diamond, (iv) Tipu Sultan’s sword and ring, (v) Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s golden throne, (vi) Shah Jahan’s royal jade wine cup, (vii) Amaravathi railings and Buddhapade, (viii) Saraswathi marble idol— vagdevi, (ix) Mechanical tiger of Tipu.
In response, the PIO, ASI merely answered that under the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, the ASI can take up the issue of retrieval of only those antiquities which had been illegally exported out of the country, in violation of the Act.
The CIC now highlighted the history attached to these artifacts and opined, “…these precious artifacts reflect India’s glorious culture and valiant history cannot be in the hands of looters, offenders or lying in foreign government and private museums. Deep sentiments are associated with these heritage objects as some of them are religiously considered sacred… They legitimately belonged to India and people of past, present and future generations are interested in re-possessing them. The Government cannot ignore these sentiments which are reflected by representations, public interest litigations and RTI requests.”
It also took objection to the transfer of the RTI applications by the PMO and the Ministry of Culture to the ASI, highlighting the fact that ASI has no legal authority to get such artifacts back. It further opined that it was the duty of the PMO and the Ministry of Culture to respond to the appellant and that transferring such requests to the ASI amounts to a breach of such duty.
Slamming the PMO and the Ministry of Culture, and directing it to respond to the RTI application as soon as possible, it then observed, “Instead of routinely transferring it to the Ministry of Culture, the PMO should have applied its mind, taken guidance from higher officers or the concerned minister, or found out from Ministry of External Affairs to provide information sought. The PMO should not have transferred the RTI application at all. Instead, the PMO should have chosen to answer to avoid assumptions by the people or appellant that there were no efforts at all.”