The controversy over Tipu Sultan's legendary sword involving industrialist Vijay Mallya brings into sharp focus the issue of import and export of antiques.
The Customs department issued a show-cause notice to Mallya, who is said to have imported the sword and then exported it without paying duty or taking permission, et cetera.
Mallya, on the other hand, feels that since it is matter of national pride, the government should exempt this particular cross-boarder transaction from such rules and regulations.
So, what really are the norms on the import and export of antiques?
According to Section 2(1) (a) of the Antiquities and Art Treasurers Act, an antique is defined as an article or object of historical interest that has been in existence for not less than one hundred years.
The import and export of antiques is covered by the prohibition imposed under Section 11 (c) of the Customs Act 1962, specifically referred to as The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.
The prohibition is primarily to prevent smuggling of precious antiques.
Under the foreign trade policy too, the import of antiques is prohibited.
The import of swords and firearms even of 'antiquarian value' by a private person requires an import licence from the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).
The central government, however, has the power to exempt any person or exclude any type of arms and ammunition from the provisions of any Act or even from the requirement of a licence. Such an exemption is granted on a case-to-case basis.
Thus, the import of a sword in particular, which falls under the category of arms, requires special permission from the district magistrate of the state where the consignment lands.
Such permission will enable the import of the antique either by sea or air. Or else, the importer could seek an import licence from the DGFT.
Otherwise, the Customs department has the right to detain the product and impose a punishment of imprisonment for not less than one year extending up to three years along with a fine. This is in addition to the imprisonment up to seven years under Customs Act.
Similarly, exports are also under the prohibition category. The export of antiques can only be done by the central government or any authority or agency authorised by the central government.
The law does not permit any private person to export antiques. If any private person exports antiques, there are penal provisions to confiscate the material and impose monetary penalties or prosecute the person.
There is no leeway or special powers with the central government to grant exclusive exemption for exports as this amounts to loss of national treasure, said a legal consultant dealing with the Customs department.
A Customs consultant said that duty is to be recovered even if the antique is of Indian origin under Section 20 of the Customs Act.If the goods are reimported after export, such goods are liable to duty and also are subject to all the applicable conditions.