The Telegraph
Monday , March 8 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt to register all antique
- How to protect the past and the present, from Mahatma to monument

New Delhi, March 7: The government is launching a massive documentation drive to register the country’s entire antique and artefact wealth to prevent a repeat of last year’s fiasco when a foreign collector auctioned off the Mahatma’s belongings.

As part of the exercise, the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities (NMMA) has invited research institutions, universities and other agencies to get involved in the documentation work.

The NMMA, which plans to create a national register of monuments and antiquities in both the public and private domain, has also formed agencies at the state level for this purpose.

Right now, the government is almost clueless regarding the treasure of antiquities the country has.

“It is sad but true that we don’t have a proper national register for our antiquities. Through this mission, we are planning to have a national directory, on both private and public collections, on the model of the World Memorial register,” NMMA director R.S. Fonia said.

The government had been caught napping when the controversy over the auction of items used by Gandhiji erupted early last year. It had no idea how the items once used by the Mahatma, including his Zenith pocket watch, spectacles, a pair of sandals, and an eating bowl and plate, had ended up in the hands of a foreign collector.

The sale of the articles had fetched $1.8 million (over Rs 8 crore).

After that auction, the government had declared items owned by the Mahatma as antiquities and barred their auction or sale.

To begin with, the NMMA will digitise all antiquities now in the government domain, Fonia said. States have been asked to form district-level bodies to verify and register monuments and antiquities.

“An antiquity can be anything. It can be a local market, a clock tower or even a haveli. If anybody thinks that a particular structure has some antiquity value, they just have to intimate the district authorities. But they should be built before 1950,” Fonia said.

The next step is expected to be digitisation of antiques in the private domain. The success of this initiative, however, will depend on the willingness of the owners to make their collections public.

Towards this end, the government is understood to be planning to declare as an antique any object that has been in existence for not less than 100 years.

Once an article is declared an antique, the owner has to register it with the government and cannot sell it.

The NMMA also plans an awareness drive at the national level and has decided to come out with translated copies of laws on conservation and protection of monuments and antiques in 12 regional languages, including Bengali, Assamese, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Gujarati, Punjabi and Hindi.

The two main acts for conservation and protection of monuments and antiquities — the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 — are at present available only in English.

Fonia said the NMMA was planning to complete the entire documentation exercise by 2012.

“India has an extraordinarily rich, vast and diverse cultural heritage in the form of built heritage, archaeological sites and remains since prehistoric times. The sheer magnitude in number alone is overwhelming and these are the symbols of both cultural expression and evolution,” the NMMA mission document says.

“There now appears to prevail a fundamental lack of knowledge, understanding and, perhaps, interest in our past: in what constitutes the heritage of India, the process that governed its coming into being, and how this heritage relates to the people.”

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