Four years after the death of renowned photographer and art collector Lance Dane, the Bombay high court rejected a petition challenging validity of an order issued by the city collector enabling a public charitable trust to take over the treasure trove of antiques, paintings and precious coins left behind by the British army officer.
A division bench of Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice BP Colabawalla refused to entertain petition filed by Sanjay Gejge, who claimed to be an adopted son of Dane, primarily on the ground that it involved disputed facts.
The judges noted that while Gejge claimed to have been adopted by the art collector, Hinduja Foundation, whom the city collector has allowed to take over the treasure left behind by the British Army officer, claimed that he was merely a help.
Fifteen months after Dane expired in June 2012 leaving none behind him, the collector of Mumbai city on September 26, 2013 passed an order enabling Hinduja Foundation to take over the treasure and precious antiques left behind by the ace photographer for due care, protection and preservation.
Gejge had challenged the order contending that the collector could not have passed an order under section 19 of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, as it first requires the central government to compulsorily acquire antiquities and art treasures, and no such order had been made in the case.
Besides, he claimed that he was Dane’s adopted son and in that capacity entitled to possession of the precious treasure left behind by the former British army officer. Contending that Gejge was merely a help, Hinduja Foundation claimed that as indicated in the collector’s order, Dane’s entire collection was agreed to be handed over to it. Gejge denied the existence of any such agreement.
The judges expressed their inability to entertain the petition on the ground of having involved disputed questions of facts. They said that in the limited writ jurisdiction they cannot hold that Gejge was an adopted son of the deceased, as emphasized by his advocate or he was a mere domestic help.
The bench said that the petitioner will have to first obtain a declaration to prove his claim of being an adopted son. “Till then, it will be not possible for us to hold that he is in lawful possession of any of these antiquities and art treasures,” it concluded.
Besides, the bench also took into consideration that during pendency of the petition, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in March, 2016 called upon Hinduja Foundation to carry out registration of the antiquities with the ASI and for that purpose the authorities have also requested the trust to furnish documents such as ownership deed or agreement etc. so that the Authority under the Act can take appropriate steps and measures.