According to Shri G. Kishan Reddy, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region, 41 stolen artefacts and idols have been retrieved from foreign countries from the year 2014 till today. He was replying to a question raised in the Lok Sabha yesterday.
“The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is constantly making best efforts through Indian missions abroad for retrieval of illegally exported antiquities,” the Minister said in his reply.
Most of the stolen artefacts have been returned from USA, UK and Australia. In 2021, only one antiquity, that is, idol of Navaneetha Krishna, originally from Andhra Pradesh, has come back to India so far. Most of the returns happened during 2016-18.
Theft of ancient monuments have become common in India. Though in recent years security around the museums has improved, we have not been able to achieve theft-proof environment.
Once the artefacts/antiquities leave the Indian shore (through illegal means) bringing them back home is an uphill task. Then efforts to retrieve and get them back to the country have to be done within the parameters of the UNESCO Convention of 1970, to which India is signatory. The Archaeological Survey of India has to prove that the object/sculpture in question is covered under the definition of Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972 and exported in violation of this Act. The basic difficulty faced for the retrieval of the object is to prove the ownership/provenance in absence of FIR or theft report lodged against the object. Usually, it is strenuous and time-consuming task with low success rate.