Mumbai: Who would have thought a small personal matter would be blown out of proportion? Various news reports suggest that when actress Sharmila Tagore, wife of late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, heir of Bhopal Nawab, visited Bhopal recently to settle the property dispute and remove the antique artefacts to be distributed in the family, some agitators started protesting this move, and finally, Sharmila had to call the police to escort her out of the palace.
The news reports state that Sharmila wants to sell the Flagstaff house situated in Ahmedabad Palace in Koh-e-Fiza area of Bhopal, though her move has been opposed by a few of her relatives. The Flagstaff house is an ancestral property of late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, whose mother was the daughter of the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan.
When questioned about the unfortunate incident, Sharmila Tagore said, “It was more of a media hype and less people protest.” When asked, if there’s any truth to the story about her relations being upset with her about her move to sell the Flagstaff House, Sharmila said, “I have nothing to do with the Flagstaff House, I am not even an heir.”
Interestingly, Merchant-Ivory production, In Custody, which was shot in Bhopal featured tables and books from Flagstaff House.
A legal expert and an auctioneer explained whether an owner has any rights over the ancestral artefacts.
Vadivelu Deenadayalan, advocate on record with the Supreme Court, says, “As a family they have the right over the artefacts. It’s important that all the items that are being treated as antiquities, have to be registered first. According to The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, under section 14 (3), every person who owns, controls, or is in possession of any antiquity specified in the notification issued under sub section (1) shall register such antiquity before the registering officer.
However, it becomes cumbersome for the owners to get it registered. Most don’t follow this. The purpose of the 1972 Act was to curb smuggling and regulate trade.”
Ankush Dadha, director of Bid & Hammer, says, “It’s a Catch-22 situation. Even today many maharajas have the custody of their palaces. In some places, the state has made claims on the heritage property, but my view is artefacts are better preserved with the original custodians. If the government feels that a certain artefact should be with them, they can buy it from the custodian, or come to a mutual agreement to preserve it and make it available for public viewing.
The Archaeological Survey of India states that registration of antiquities is a must and owners must themselves come forward, otherwise they can be penalised. But the question is when no one comes forward or reads the gazette notifications from time to time how does the ASI check on this?”
And whether the government has a right over an artefact, Vadivelu adds, “As per the 1972 Act, section 19 (1) states, if the Central Government is of the opinion that it is desirable to preserve any antiquity or art treasure in a public place, that Government may make an order for the compulsory acquisition of such antiquity or art treasure. The state can claim the artefact and compensate the owner.”
Talking about the rights of a local body protesting such a move, he adds, “The local body protesting outside the palace, has no right to the objects. At the most, they can file a case, but what the owner decides to do with the artefact rests with him/her.”