A news magazine reported on April 9, 2016 that “24 hours after it told the Supreme Court that the Kohinoor diamond cannot be brought back to India from UK as it was ‘gifted’ to the British queen, the government has done a U-turn over the issue.” Quoting government sources, an officer said that they will do whatever they can to bring the Kohinoor back to the country. A senior government functionary said that the government has resolved to make all possible efforts to bring back the legendary gem in an amicable manner.
Was Kohinoor grabbed or gifted?
‘The status report on which the preliminary submission was made by the Solicitor General have references to the stand taken by governments earlier that the Kohinoor was a gift and cannot be categorized as an object stolen. The material further has references to the views of India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru dating back to 1956.
In October 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel returned a 10th century Indian statue of Goddess Durga that was stolen in 1990 and found in 2012 at a museum in Germany. In April 2015, then Canadian PM Stephen Harper returned a sculpture known as the 'Parrot Lady,' which dates back to almost 900 years. Then Australian PM Tony Abbott, on his India visit in 2014, had returned antique statues of Hindu deities that were in Australian art galleries. None of these gestures affected India's relations with either Canada, Germany or Australia. Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat got back the ashes of Shyamji Krishna Varma almost 70 years after his death in 2003.
The Ministry of Culture replied to an RTI filed by PTI: “Since the object referred [Kohinoor] has been taken out of the country prior to the Independence, the Archaeological Survey of India is not in a position to process the matter.” MEA said: “It may be noted that Ministry of Culture deals with return of cultural artefacts. Therefore the RTI application has been forwarded to Ministry of Culture.”
Two public interest litigations (PIL) were filed two NGOs each by the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front (WP No. 185/2016), and Heritage Bengal (represented by MP Sukhendu Shekhar Roy of Trinamul Congress (WP No 367/2016 filed on 15.5.2016), which were tagged together, as they were seeking a writ of mandamus to the Union of India and also to ‘High Commissioner of United Kingdom' for returning the world famous Koh-i-Noor diamond etc.
Heritage Bengal in its PIL sought declaration of the Koh-I-Noor diamond as India's cultural property and a direction to the government to initiate a diplomatic move at the highest level with the UK for repatriation of the famed gem. It disputed the claim of the centre with a supporting evidence of a letter in which the then ruler of Punjab, Duleep Singh, said his properties were 'confiscated' by the British. On April 18, 2016 the apex court had advised the Centre to take a “careful stand” on the Koh-i-Noor diamond, instead of going by the Culture Ministry’s view that India had no right to claim it from the UK.
Supreme Court on 21st April 2017 referred to a counter affidavit filed by the Government of India stated as under:
10. It may be noted that the relevant instrument is the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which deals with illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. UK became a signatory since 1977. It would be seen that Article 15 of the Convention allows State Parties to seek the restitution of a removed cultural property by entering into a special agreement with the concerned State Party with respect to cultural property removed or transferred before its entry into force of the Convention, Article 15 would be relevant. It is reiterated that India’s credentials regarding ownership of the Koh-I-Noor based on historical evidence cannot be doubted.
11. Keeping in view of the above, the answering respondents state that the Koh-I-Noor, as also other Indian artefacts, manuscripts and items of artistic and historical value that are precisely in the UK, are a significant expression of India’s historical heritage. Koh-I-Noor is an Indian artefact that was located for most of its history within the political and geographical boundaries of India. The answering respondents are mindful of the sentiments that have been expressed by the Indian public and that the Parliament from time to time, about the return of the Koh-I-Noor and other items of India. The Government of India continues to explore ways and means for obtaining a satisfactory resolution to the issue with the UK Government.
It is surprising that CPIOs of PMO and Ministry of Culture did not apply their mind, ignored the lack of authority in ASI and in a routine manner transferred RTI application without even verifying whether they have any information in their records. CIC questioned: Whether Union of India believe that Koh-I-Noor was gifted to British Queen?
Whether PM agree with Pandit Nehru’s stand that India had no ground to claim it back and such a claim would lead to difficulties? After England became signatory in 1977, why not India utilise its right under Article 15 of UNESCO convention 1970? As per the commitment given to Supreme Court, what efforts were continued by Government of India or its Ministry of External Affairs? As the ASI cannot furnish any answers to these questions, the people would look to the PM, for action and information.