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HC stays memorabilia auction

To prevent Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings from going under the hammer, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday put an interim stay on an auction, set to take place in New York.

delhi Updated: Mar 04, 2009 01:01 IST
Harish V Nair

To prevent Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings from going under the hammer, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday put an interim stay on an auction, set to take place in New York.

The order came after a plea by the Navjivan Trust, founded by the Mahatma in 1929. United States-based Antiquo-rum has been restrained from auctioning five prized articles — including the iconic round glasses, sandals and a pocket watch — till May 6, the next date of hearing.

Does a Delhi court have jurisdiction over an auction in the US? It does, argued the counsel for Navjivan Trust. Under private international law, said Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, the issue of jurisdiction did not come in the way of the order. “Any article belonging to Gandhi is of great heritage value and is considered legitimately owned by India,” he said.

The order came on a day when James Otis, owner of the Mahatma’s items, said he was ready to give them to the Indian government for “free” if it decided to spend five per cent of its GDP on poor.

Otis told the Press Trust of India that he plans to donate most of the money from the auction to “worthy causes” and institutions and groups working to promote Mahatma’s ideals.

The auctioneers had valued Gandhi’s belonging being auctioned at around $20,000 to $30,000 but the controversy could raise the price higher.

India’s foreign ministry is going to ask the US State Department to step in to prevent the auction of the Mahatma’s personal effects that has outraged many Indians, a minister said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni said India’s case against the sale had been boosted by the high court order. “The Ministry of External Affairs will take up with the US State Department the issue with the aim of stalling the auction,” Soni said on Tuesday.

“Whatever is required to bring back those items will be done,” she added.

(With inputs from PTI)