As many as 31 antiquities have been stolen from centrally protected monuments and sites in the last 10 years, the government said in Lok Sabha last week. Out of these, 27 objects are yet to be recovered, with no information about their illegal shipping abroad available, it added.
The states from where such antiquities are missing include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Odisha and Rajasthan, as per the statement by Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy. He was responding to a question by DMK MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, who asked him about the number of temple idols stolen and recovered in the country so far during the last 10 years, and the measures taken by the government to prevent idol theft in temples.
Out of the three antiques idols stolen from Andhra Pradesh between 2013 and 2023, two have been recovered; while none of the objects stolen from Bihar (four), Odisha (four), Rajasthan (three) and Chhattisgarh (two) have been located yet.
Incidentally, Karnataka lost the maximum number of objects in the last one decade – 14 – out of which, only one has been found so far, Reddy said.
Responding to the MPs question, Reddy added, “The government is committed to bring back the antiquities of Indian origin which were taken away from India. Whenever an antiquity of Indian origin surfaces abroad, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) takes up the matter with Indian Embassies or missions abroad through the Ministry of External Affairs for their retrieval.”
He added that ASI has retrieved 251 antiquities from foreign countries between 1976 and 2023, of which 238 have been retrieved in the last nine years.
On the steps to prevent such thefts, Reddy said that besides regular watch and ward staff of ASI, private security guards, state police armed guards, and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) have been deployed as per requirement. “Whenever any theft of antiquity is reported, an FIR is lodged in the concerned police station and ‘Look Out Notice’ is issued to law enforcement agencies including Custom Exit Channels to keep vigil to trace stolen antiquity and prevent its illegal export,” he explained.
In response to a separate question in Lok Sabha on the number of antiques from Jammu & Kashmir, registered under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, that are currently reported missing or stolen, Reddy said that 1204 antiquities have been registered in the Union Territory under the Act, out of which, one antiquity was reported missing in the year 1983. “The case is under investigation,” he added.
On the details of museums and collections in other countries who have agreed to return missing or stolen antiques to India, Reddy clarified that “no such agreement has been made for the return of missing or stolen antiques to India with any museum abroad”.