Ancient Monuments and antiquities are a window to our past. They reflect India’s rich culture and remind us of our traditional roots. From Khajuraho to Hambi, as well as the Taj Mahal to Ajanta caves, India has hundreds and thousands of such architectural marvels. Because people can explore these monuments from close quarters, preserving and protecting these ancient heritage monuments are essential. These monuments are a matter of national pride and cultural identity. India has enacted numerous legislations for the protection and management of ancient monuments. One such legislation is the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904. Enacted during the British Era, the Act was amended numerous times to suit contemporary legal situations. The Act provides for the preservation and maintenance of ancient monuments and antiquities and allows the government to acquire these heritages.
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The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904
The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act was passed by the British Parliament on 18th March 1904. The Act provides for the preservation of ancient monuments and antiquities and protection of archaeological, historical, and artistic interests.
The Act has been divided into five chapters and provisions the preservation of ancient monuments, trafficking in antiquities, archaeological excavation, penalties, among others.
Some of the key definitions under the Act are as follows:
The ancient monument includes any structures, erections, monuments, caves, rock-structure, monoliths, or inscriptions of historical and archaeological significance. The Act includes a site of ancient monuments and any means of access and convenience to such sites.
The antiquities include any movable property of historical and archaeological importance that requires protection against any injury, damage, or destruction.
The Central Government can declare any ancient monument to be a protected monument.
Chapter 2 of the Act deals with the provisions for the acquisition and preservation of an ancient monument.
Acquisition of Rights
The collector can purchase or lease a protected monument subject to approval from the Central Government. He may also accept a gift or bequest of any protected monument. The owner of a protected monument can constitute a commissioner as a guardian of the monument. The commissioner requires approval from the Central Government to accept guardianship. However, the owner’s rights, titles, and interests for constituting a guardianship are not affected.
Preservation of the Monument
The Collector can propose an agreement between the owner of the ancient monument and the Central Government to preserve the monument. The agreement can include the following:
- Matters regarding the maintenance of the monument
- Custody of the monument
- Duties of the caretaker appointed to look after the monument
- Restriction on the owner to destroy, alter, or remove any part or the whole of the monument
- Parts of the monument are open to access by the general public and persons appointed by the owner and the Collector for maintenance and inspection
- Right of the owner to dispose of the property and the right of the Central Government to purchase the land where the monument is situated
- The liability to pay for the expenses incurred on maintaining the monument
- The procedure of appointing an authority to settle disputes arising from this agreement
This agreement can be altered at any time with the consent of both parties. The collector, on behalf of the government and the owner, can terminate this agreement by serving a 6-month notice.
Disability of Owner
If the owner is a minor or suffers any other legal disability, then the lawful guardian of such an owner can exercise ownership rights on his/her behalf. In the case of a village property, the village head or any village officer can manage the property on behalf of an owner lacking legal capacity.
Enforcement of Agreement
- The Collector is to prohibit any destruction, removal, or defacing of an ancient monument by the owner or occupier.
- If the owner or other person cannot preserve and maintain the monument according to the agreement, then the Collector can hire another person for maintenance. The Collector can pass an order to recover the expense of such maintenance from the owner.
Compulsory Purchase of the Monument
When the Central Government believes that the protected monument is at risk of destruction or decay due to natural or human factors, then it can direct the State Government to acquire the monument.
The exceptions to this rule are monuments used for religious purposes or a previous agreement between the owner and the government for the maintenance and preservation of
Protection of the Place of Worship
The Collector has provisions to protect a monument used for religious purposes from misuse, pollution, and destruction. He/she can prohibit the entry of any person into a monument where religious usages bar such entry.
The Central government can impose penalties on a person who destroys, removes, alters, or defaces a monument maintained by the government. The government can also punish an owner of an ancient monument breaching the maintenance and preservation agreement. The offender could be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 months or a fine of Rs 5000 or both.
Trafficking of Antiquities
The Act gives power to the Central government to control the trafficking of antiquities. Under Section 17 of the Act, the government may prohibit and restrict the import or export of any antiquities or class of antiquities by land or sea through a notification. A person who either imports or exports or attempts to import or export in violation of the notification has to pay a fine of up to Rs 5000. The authorities can confiscate any antiquity that is being trafficked.
A customs officer or a Police officer can search any vessel, cart, baggage, or package of goods to stop the trafficking of antiquities.
Protection of Sculptures, Carvings, Images, or like objects Under the Act
The Central Government is empowered to control the movements of sculptures, carvings, images and similar objects. The government can prohibit the movement of such objects or class of objects with the written permission of the Collector. The Collector should scrutinise any application for such movement and can seek additional information regarding the purpose of the movement. In case of refusal by the Collector, the applicant can appeal to the Commissioner for final decision in the matter.
Power to Purchase Antiquities
If the Central Government believes that such objects are at risk of being destroyed, removed, or damaged, then it can pass an order for the purchase of such objects at their market value.
Chapter 3 of the Ancient Monuments Act deals with powers related to archaeological excavations:
Power to Declare ‘Protected Area’
The Central Government can declare any area as a ‘Protected Area’ to restrict and regulate excavation activities in such an area in the interest for archaeological research. All antiquities buried in the protected area become the government’s property and are considered the government’s possession from the date of such declaration. However, the declaration will have no adverse effect on the rights of land owner or occupier.
Power to Excavate in Protected Areas
As per Section 20A of the Act, an officer of the Archeological Department or a licensee can enter and excavate the protected area with the prior permission of the collector. The Central Government has to compensate a person whose rights are infringed by the actions of the Officer of the Archeological Department or a licensee.
Power to Make Rules
The Central Government can make rules to regulate archaeological excavation in a protected area. These rules may be related to the following:
- The government can prescribe the licensing authority to grant licences for excavation in a protected area.
- The government can lay down conditions regarding the grants of licences, licensing procedures, and licence securities.
- The government can also prescribe the distribution of antiquities between the government and the licensee.
In the case of a breach of any rule or condition of the licensee, either by the licensee or by his agent or servant, the licensee can be punished with a fine of up to Rs 5000.
Acquiring Protected Area
The Central Government can direct the State government where the protected area lies to acquire it if it contains any ancient monuments or antiquities of value and national interest. The State government can acquire ‘Protected Areas’ under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
The Act primarily helps the government maintain ancient monuments and antiquities and preserve them from any damage or destruction. The Act defines the protected monuments enabling the government to take measures for their protection and also provides powers to the Central Government to acquire a protected monument through lease or purchase. The government can also purchase any antiquity at risk of being destroyed or damaged. The stringent penal provisions of the Act ensure that no ancient monument or antiquity is at any potential risk. The Act also ensures that no rights of the owner of antiquity or land where an ancient monument is located, are affected. An aggrieved owner can challenge the order of a Collector by appealing to the Commissioner.
FAQs on Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904
What is an Ancient Monument under the Act?
As per Section 2(2) of the Act, the ancient monument will include structures, erections, monuments, caves, rock structures, monoliths, or inscriptions of historical and archaeological significance. Monuments will also include a site of ancient monuments and any means of access and convenience to such sites.
Who can excavate a protected area under the Act?
An officer of the Archeological Department or a licensee can excavate the protected area with the prior permission of the collector.
How does the Central Government control the trafficking of antiquities?
As per Section 17 of the Act, the Central Government can ban the import or export of certain antiquities that it deems to be trafficked.
What are the penalties under the Act?
A person who destroys, removes, alters, or defaces a monument maintained by the government as well the owner of an ancient monument who breaches the maintenance and preservation agreement could be punished with imprisonment of up to 3 months or a fine of Rs. 5000 or both.