Amid demands from several quarters to stop the auction of paintings of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in London, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today assured that the issue will be examined but said the government has no legal rights over the rare works.
Singh, who chaired the first meeting of National Committee for Commemoration of 150th Birth Anniversary of Tagore, said the government will surely examine into the issue of bringing back the rare paintings.
According to sources, Singh at the same time said the government didn't have legal rights over the paintings.
They said the Prime Minister recalled the hurdles the government faced while stopping the auction of Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings, including his iconic round glasses, in New York last year.
Twelve paintings of Tagore, including a portrait of a woman with a fan, will go the hammer at Sotheby's on June 15.
The paintings belong to the Dartington Hall estate in London's South Devon and have a combined pre-sale estimate of 250,000 pounds. Tagore visited Dartington a number of times.
Apart from the paintings, it holds a huge archive of photographs, letters and other ephemera relating to Tagore.
Sources said the issue was raised by CPI-M Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury at the meeting, which was attended by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and others.
Singh's comments come a day after West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote to him requesting him to take measures to bring to India the 12 paintings.
Several organisations in Bengal and cultural centres across the country have also appealed to the government to take steps to bring the paintings back.
Despite the Delhi High Court ordering a stay on the auction and a massive diplomatic effort, Gandhi's five personal belongings went under the hammer at Antiquorum Auctioneers in March last year.
The articles were finally bought by business tycoon Vijay Mallya.
Earlier, a Culture Ministry official told PTI that the matter has been brought to the government's notice.
"We are aware that some paintings of Tagore are going to be auctioned in London next month. The matter is under consideration," the official said.
Asked whether the government was contemplating any step to stop the auction and bring back the paintings, the official said they have come to know about the auction only yesterday and a decision on this will be taken soon.
The auction also comes at a time when the government is planning to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore in a big way. The prime minister has appointed two committees to consider policies and lay down guidelines for the celebrations. Singh himself heads one committee.