The centre Monday told Supreme Court that the Kohinoor diamond was neither “forcibly taken nor stolen” by British rulers, but given as a “gift” to East India Company by rulers of Punjab. Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said India should not stake claim to Kohinoor because other countries may start pressing India for return of their items.
“Kohinoor cannot be said to be forcibly taken or stolen as it was given by the successors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to East India Company in 1849 as compensation for helping them in the Sikh wars,” Kumar told a bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur.
Last week, the bench had asked Kumar to revert on a PIL that sought directives to the Indian High Commissioner in UK for return of the diamond and various other treasures.
Apprising the court of Culture Ministry’s stand, Kumar recalled historical events leading to discovery of the diamond in Guntur and how it changed several hands before landing in the British Crown. When the bench asked whether the government was still open to staking a claim, Kumar replied: “If we claim our treasures like Kohinoor from other countries, every other nation will start claiming their items from us. There will be nothing left in our museums.” He said he is yet to get instructions from External Affairs Ministry.
The bench asked Kumar to file a detailed response elaborating the Centre’s stand. “We are not inclined to simply dismiss this plea. If we dismiss it, that country (UK) may say that your Supreme Court has rejected the plea and it may lead to denial of the government’s legitimate claim… You formulate a response and file it in six weeks,” the bench told Kumar.
The court is hearing a PIL filed by NGO ‘All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front’, which has sought retrieval of Kohinoor as also return of the ring, talwar and other treasures of Tipu Sultan, Bahadur Shah Zafar, etc.
MoS, Culture, Mahesh Sharma said the matter rests at the diplomatic level. “If a diplomatic call needs to be taken, it would be taken by the Indian government or External Affairs Ministry at the right time…the Culture Ministry will not take any initiative,” he said. “As per guidelines, if any of our antiquities is found anywhere after Independence, Culture Ministry takes initiatives to get it back. Those found before Independence do not come under purview of the Culture Ministry,” he added.