From the issues of Stamps of India Collectors Companion

Part 59, Issue # 118 - May 29, 2003

The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 will be amended and stringent punishments introduced to prevent thefts and smuggling of antiques. Union Tourism Minister Jaghmohan said the government will place the proposed changes before the Parliament in the next session.

Speaking to Hindustan Times he said that theft or smuggling of antiques would be made a cognizable offence and punishment would also be increased to three years from the existing six months. Besides, the Central Bureau of Investigation would also have the powers to carry out search and seizure operations independently. At present, the CBI needs to seek permission from a magistrate and also have experts from the Archaeological Survey of India which delays operations.

Past experience shows that influential people and gangs are involved in the smuggling and theft of antiques, the minister said. "The changes are intended to strike back at these organised groups and people," he said.

Jagmohan also said the government is contemplating setting up of special courts to deal with such offences. "Cases keep on dragging, therefore we are exploring the possibility of either setting up of special courts or speeding up the trials in some manner," he added.

Earlier addressing CBI officials after inspecting idols and antiquities seized by the agency, Jagmohan said the government would move the court for handing over the seized items to the National Museum or National Gallery of Modern Arts. The CBI has over 15000 antiquites lying with it.

Some of the Priceless items with the CBI:
a) Three 'panch dhatu' idols which date back to Vijay Nagar Empire
b) Idols relating to the beheading of 46 Jain Trithankara Idols
c) Nine antique paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, including his last unfinished painting
d) Terracota Pannel of Harappan Civilisation dating back to 2nd century recovered in 2003

This is a welcome announcement and we hope that when the changes are being made, before presentation to the parliament, the Honorable Minister would also look at other antiquities covered under the act including philatelic material. Especially as the provisions of the law have been abused by several philatelists with impunity.

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