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Museum policies

Dr. Naman Ahuja identifies policy priorities for museums in India

Sahapedia: In your article of 2012, ‘Why is liberalized India smuggling its heritage abroad?’ you speak of the need for measures to encourage the collection of antiquities and the retention of artifacts in India, ‘Smugglers may peddle in heritage, but the inaction of our policymakers threatens to destroy it forever’. You describe short-sighted regulations, the absence of constructive efforts, and larger problems intrinsic to the development agenda. On this International Museum Day, what for you should be the first priority for India?

Naman Ahuja: I think there should be reform in the Treasure Trove Act (1878) and Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (1972). The two should be consolidated into a single act, as their overarching intentions are the same: how to maintain the artistic/archaeological heritage for a nation. I believe the Acts should be reformed so as to encourage domestic collecting of art in India. We should learn from the experiences of other parts of the world: if there is a vibrant domestic market here, there will be no need for dealers to smuggle objects and sell them abroad. It is clearly beyond the capacity of the State to regulate our porous borders, and judging by the state of our museums and the poorly funded and strained conditions of the Archaeological Survey of India, it is impossible for the State to safeguard and protect all heritage alone, without private support.

 

S: How can the Government be made to engage with the collectors to create an atmosphere where both of them are not conceived as 'odds with each other'?

N.A.: Art dealers need to conduct extensive research and publicize their objects widely in order to enhance the market value of the objects. In the process, art-works would be documented and as their value keeps increasing, owners would take better care of their possessions. The Government needs to have these cultural assets documented, they need a register of ownership maintained, and appropriate care to be taken of artworks. All these three goals may be met by encouraging a system where private owners will end up aiding the government’s objectives.