The Centre on Tuesday reversed its stand on the 105-carat Kohinoor diamond saying it was taken away by the British from Maharaja Duleep Singh. It told the Supreme Court that the priced gem was India’s property and it wasn’t gifted to Queen Victoria.
The Centre said it was “mindful of the Indian public sentiment attached with the gem.” With no legal options available, the government said it will “explore ways and means” to negotiate with the British government to get the jewel that adorns the British crown.
The government submitted this in the apex court in reply to a case filed by an organisation, seeking directions to the British India high commissioner for returning the diamond among other treasures like belonging of Tipu Sultan, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Rani of Jhansi.
On the last hearing solicitor general Ranjit Kumar had made a statement before a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur that Kohinoor cannot be categorised as an object stolen but gifted as compensation. “If we lay claim to the gem then tomorrow other countries will start demanding the treasure we have,” Kumar had said. But the court was not convinced with the argument and asked him to file a written response.
Now the government has taken a stand that the gem belongs to India but, added, it cannot proceed legally against Britain. Although the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 provides for compulsory acquisition of antiquities and art treasures, the government said it cannot invoke the law because it cannot be implemented retrospectively.
Similarly both India and UK are signatories to the UNESCO convention that prevents museums from acquiring cultural property belonging to another national or that has been illegally imported.
Article 7 of the convention allows a country to take appropriate steps to recover and return such a property. But, government said, in Kohinoor’s case India cannot raise the issue in the international court because the incident pre-dates the force of convention.
Britain has on several occasions opposed returning of the diamond to India. Former Prime Minister David Cameron had in 2010 told a TV channel that Kohinoor would stay put in the British museum.