The Constitution of India has three sections specifically designated for the preservation of Indian culture. The Government and the Constitution go into the specifics of the preservation because the history, fine arts, literary artifacts creates lasting impressions on the world about our nation’s heritage and importance. Let us now discuss related Constitutional provisions and Acts.

From Constitution of India

Article 29: ‘Protection of Interests of Minorities’

This article focuses solely on the defence of the culture of those communities that constitute the minority according to the Constitution of India. According to the Constitution:

“Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.

As this quote clarifies, this allows communities like the tribal populations of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, North-Eastern regions, Odisha and numerically small groups like the Parsis to take steps to preserve their culture, language and literature.

It also confirms their right to receive help from the State and any Statefunded agency to conserve their heritage. It also makes a distinction that no citizen shall be denied assistance from an institution maintained by the State on grounds of their religion, caste, language, race or any of them.

Article 49: ‘Protection of Monuments and Places and Objects of National Value’

This article of the Constitution restates the importance of all those monuments and objects, which belong to India’s heritage. These pieces of national significance would be under the protection of the State, if they are under harm. The Constitution states that:

  • It shall be the obligation of the State to protect every monument or place or an object of artistic or historic interest.
  • Any monument that is declared by or under law made by the Parliament to be of national importance should be saved from spoilation, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal or export, as the case may be.

Article 51A(f) ‘ Value and Preserve the Rich Heritage of Indian Culture’.

Unlike the two articles mentioned above that enumerate the duties of the State; Article 51(A) is part of the Fundamental Duties of every citizen of India. The Constitution commands the people to value and preserve the tangible and intangible heritage of our composite culture. This also points out that there is a link between the traditions of our society and the laws made to govern it. The culture reflects the ever-changing society and the law shall preserve it and the citizens should play their part in it.

Apart from these articles, the Constitution and our lawmakers have devised several Acts, which punish those who break the laws concerning our culture.

Some of the primary Acts are:

Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878:

The British Government instituted this Act to protect and preserve treasures found accidently as once the Britishers took over any principality, they would loot and capture the erstwhile ruler’s treasury. All the goods, which had an archeological and historical value, were protected, so that a directory could be created of the treasures accumulated and they could be lawfully disposed.

Some of the more important concerns addressed in the Act were:

  • Whatever treasures were discovered, were to be declared to the concerned District Collector or the nearest Government treasury and all the relevant information about the artefact(s) should be submitted to the Government.
  • If someone does not follow this directive to inform the concerned authority or attempts to alter the treasure or conceal the identity and value of the treasure, then he/she would have to face several penalties like a hefty fine or even be jailed.
  • If the owner of the place where the treasure is found fails to share a percentage of the treasure with the Government, he/she would be convicted in front of the Magistrate and jailed for six months or fined, or both.

Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904

  • The British Government instituted this Act to provide effective preservation and authority over the monument to the government so that it can protect the national heritage. This Act was particularly concerned with those monuments that were in the custody of individual or private ownership.
  • The Central Government and the owner shall sign an agreement for the conservation of any protected monument. This also stops the owner from adding on to, demolishing, altering or disfiguring the monument. In case of selling the land on which the monument stands, the government would have the first right to purchase the land.
  • The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, which was first enacted in 1904, was amended in 1932 to be Ancient Monuments Preservation (Amendment) Act. Furthermore in 1958, Central Government enacted “The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Site and Remains Act” to broaden the kind of sites in urban and rural archeological settlements, which can be covered under this law. Further, the Parliament also formulated “The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010” to better preserve the historic monuments and archeological sites of national importance.

The Antiquities (Export Control) Act, 1947

  • During the time of Independence when the Britishers were going out of India in droves, they were also taking several important artefacts which they had hoarded over the years. After independence, Government of India enacted “The Antiquities (Export Control) Act of 1947” to provide a form of regulation over what can or cannot be shipped outside the boundaries of India. Two of the major provisions are:
    • The Director General of ASI has to issue a license for any object that is being exported from India.
    • The Director General of ASI also has the power to decide if any article, thing or object is an antiquity or not. His/her decision about the status of the object under purview of this Act would be binding.

The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act, 1951

  • Under this Act, all the monuments of historical importance and archeological sites, which were earlier covered under the ‘Ancient Monument Preservation Act’ were re-declared as objects of national importance. In 1951, around 450 monuments and archeological sites were added to the original list of 1904.
  • This Act had some loopholes and to bring parity to the preservation of archeological affluence of India; a revised version titled ‘The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958’ was passed in This version of the Act was specially enacted keeping in mind the need to preserve the physical artefacts like sculptures, carvings and other such objects.
  • The recent amendment to this Act was made in 2010 and it was titled as ‘The Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amended and Validation) Act, 2010. The main provisions of this Act are:
    • The Central Government has the power to declare any monument or archaeological site of ancient and medieval times as a repository of national importance.
    • The Director General will have the authority from the Central Government to presume the guardianship, purchase or lease of any such site or monument and ensure its preservation and maintenance.
  • The Act also provides the Government and Director General, the power to acquire antiquities for their preservation; control the movement of the objects; demand compensation or levy penalties for damage to land, object, monument, etc.

Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972

  • This Act was enacted for the effective control over the movable cultural property consisting of any type of art objects and antiquities. The Act is one step forward in controlling the export trade in Indian antiquities and preventing any smuggling and fraudulent dealings. Some of the most important points from the Act are:
    • Any object; sculpture in stone, terracotta, metal, ivory; manuscripts and paintings in paper, wood, cloth, skin, etc. which have been in existence for not less than 100 years, are considered to be ‘Antiquities’.
    • Any person, other than an emissary of the Central Government or someone with the authority from the Central Government, cannot export antiquity. If caught doing so, it would be considered illegal.
    • Those who want to sell, purchase or rent antiquities have to obtain a license from the Central Government. They should also register their business with the registering officer and obtain a certificate.
    • If anyone is caught exporting an art treasure or an antiquity without the right licenses, they are liable for punishment. Usually the punishment will include a minimum three-month jail term which can stretch to three years along with a hefty amount of fine.

Public Records Act, 1993

  • The Act has been enacted at the behest of the Department of Culture, which empowers the government to permanently preserve records in public domain. This Act also tries to regulate the preservation and management of public records and decisions taken by the government and its various statutory bodies.
  • Some of the major provisions are:
    • Any document, file, manuscript, microfilm, image or any other form of document in relation to the Central Government, any Ministry or any Department is under the purview of the Public Records Act. Every agency mentioned above will create its own records and shall nominate one of its own officers as the ‘Records Officer’ and a ‘Record Room’ in their office space is to be maintained.
    • Furthermore, the Records Officer will be responsible for the maintenance of the records. In every 25 years, there shall be an appraisal in consultation with the National Archives of India and those documents that have some value, shall be preserved.
    • In case of unauthorised removal, destruction or alteration of the records, the Record Officers would be responsible for any action taken against the perpetrator and they would seek assistance from the government body to retrieve or restore such documents.

Hence, we see that the Constitution and the Government have taken several steps for the preservation of the cultural values of India. The ever-changing laws try to keep up with the changing society and challenges faced by our tangible and intangible heritage. This shows the ever-present link between our law and culture.

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