Narendra Modi government to Supreme Court: Exploring diplomatic channels to bring back Kohinoor diamond

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has told the Supreme Court it's exploring diplomatic channels to bring back the Kohinoor diamond from the UK. The Centre had in April 2016 said it was a gift given to the British by Ranjit Singh's successor Prince Dalip Singh as "compensation" after the 1849 Sikh wars and couldn't be brought back.

The Narendra Modi government on Friday told the Supreme Court that it is exploring diplomatic channels to bring back the 200 million dollars' (Rs 1,293 crore) worth Kohinoor diamond back from the United Kingdom. But this significantly marked a major U turn on the part of the government regarding its stand on getting the treasured gem back.

The diamond is set in a crown which is on display in the Tower of London. In 2013, during a trip to India, UK Prime Minister David Cameron had ruled out sending the diamond back to India, declaring that he does not believe in "returnism."

On April 19, 2016, the last date of hearing of the PIL seeking a direction to the Centre to bring back Kohinoor, the Centre had said it was a gift given to the British by Ranjit Singh's successor Prince Dalip Singh as some "compensation" after the 1849 Sikh wars and cannot be brought back.

Till then, the stand of successive central governments was that the gem was "stolen or forcibly taken away" from India and will take steps to bring it back. Centre's affidavit said Kohinoor is India's property but international conventions as well as the laws restrain it from making a rightful claim for its return from Britain.

'NOT MANY LEGAL OPTIONS'

The government however said it is devising ways and means to see if the diamond could be brought back based on any agreement with the UK.

Stating there was no concrete evidence to show that the diamond was validly gifted to Queen Victoria, an affidavit filed by the Centre also said the government was mindful of the Indian public sentiment attached with the gem.

However, the government said it did not have many legal options and would have to resort to diplomatic relations to seek its retrieval from UK.

The Supreme Court disposed off the PIL saying the court cannot do much in this issue and the government was anyways taking diplomatic measures to get it back.

"See diplomatic measures cannot be under any supervision and can a court in India pass any order asking any country to return something? And all the more at a time when the government in its counter affidavit says they are taking steps to bring it back?" a bench led by Chief Justice J S Khehar bench asked lawyers for the petitioners in two PILs.

"The Centre's affidavit clearly says though it is not possible to make them return the diamond we will continue to explore it. Yes they say it is not possible but through diplomatic channels it may be possible. What kind of petitions you are filing?" CJI Khehar asked.

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