Possession of antiquities, artefacts: the legal position

  • The Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu Police has warned of legal action if those in possession of antiques or artefacts without proper documentation do not hand them over within 15 days. What exactly does the law say on the possession of antiquities? Here are the answers to some key questions:
  • What are antiquities and art treasures?

  • The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, says an “antiquity” is an article or object that is at least 100 years old. It could be a coin, sculpture, painting or epigraph, or any object or article taken from a building or a cave, or anything that illustrates the science, art, crafts or customs or religion or literature of a bygone age, or anything of historical interest. If it is a manuscript or record of any scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value, it should be at least 75 years’ old. An art treasure is a human work of art, other than an antiquity, declared to be a treasure by the Centre for its artistic value after the artist’s death.
  • Is mere possession an offence under this law?

  • No, but possession of an unregistered antiquity is a punishable offence under law. Section 14(3) of the Act makes it mandatory for “every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity” to register it before a registering officer within 15 days of its coming into his control or possession and obtain a certificate of registration.
  • What is the punishment?

  • A jail term of six months, or with fine, or both. Besides, the antiquity is also liable to be confiscated.
  • Can antiquities be sold or exported?

  • Antiquities can be sold, but only by a licensed person. However, Section 3 of the Act prohibits export of an antiquity by anyone other than the Centre or its agencies. Violation of this section is punishable with imprisonment of at least six months, but the punishment could go up to three years with fine.
  • What are the other offences and penalties under this law?

  • The sale of antiquities requires a licence. If the licence is revoked, antiquities declared to be in the licensee’s possession at that time can be sold within six months, but not thereafter. Thus, selling antiquities after the six-month period following the revocation of a licence is an offence.
  • Selling antiquities specified for sale only by the Central government and failure to declare all the antiquities in one’s possession at the time of the expiry of a licence are also offences. All these attract the same penalty of a six-month jail term or fine or both, besides confiscation.
  • What the buyer needs to know?

  • The onus is on the buyer to verify if what he is acquiring is an antiquity, and, if so, that the seller is licensed to sell it and has a certificate of registration.
  • Where and how does one register an antiquity?

  • Registration is before an authorised authority under the Archaeological Survey of India. Earlier, it was done by the State Archaeology Department, but now it is with the ASI.
  • What happens when antiquities are seized by the authorities?

  • Whenever a seizure takes place, an expert committee will verify the pieces for their antiquity and to find out whether they had been stolen from temples. The committee will verify documentation related to registration and sale.
  • What is the situation in Tamil Nadu?

  • Tamil Nadu has a registration process in place since 1974. It has seven registering officers. According to the State Archaeology Department’s website, 42,358 antiquities have been registered and certificates issued in Tamil Nadu.


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