Budget frees art from customs’ shackles, frat upbeat

February 28th, 2011 - 8:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Pranab Mukherjee New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) India’s art fraternity Monday gave a huge thumbs up to the budget for 2011-12, saying it would free imported art and antiquities from the shackles of customs duties and help bring more works from abroad to the country. Culture Minister Kumari Selja also hailed the move.Selja said in a statement the concession by the government would encourage “more and more private, corporate and philanthropic organisations and individuals, to promote and popularise Indian art”.

Private parties also welcomed the budget, which removed customs duties on works of art and antiquities imported for exhibition by private promoters. Hitherto, this exemption was available only to public institutions.

The government’s move will “internationalise art in India”, said Neha Kirpal, director of the India Art Summit, the country’s biggest art fair.

Nidhi Jain, who manages Gallery Ragini, said “the government’s move showed that someone was actually thinking of us”.

Presenting the budget in the Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “In recent years, many organisations have joined the cause of promoting and popularising both traditional and contemporary art. Some of them have been active in locating heritage works of Indian origin in foreign countries and bringing them back home.”

“To encourage such initiatives, I propose to expand the scope of the exemption for works of art and antiquities to also apply to imports for exhibition or display in private art galleries or similar premises that are open to the general public.”

Kirpal told IANS: “I had repeatedly said the single largest hindrance in the internationalisation of art in India was the customs and import duty on objects of art and if there was a shift in reality, it would facilitate a more brisk artistic exchange between India and the rest of the world.”

She said the “easing of customs levies was happening at an amazing time when India was getting ready and economically capable to culturally appreciate art”.

One of the major bottlenecks in importing art and objects of heritage value to India was the “poor cost viability caused by high customs duties”.

For private promoters and exhibitors of art with tight resources, the exorbitant cost incurred in bringing art located abroad to India made such exhibitions “commercially unviable”.

“It is a very good move not only for the community of private promoters, but also for the country’s artistic heritage. We encountered several procedural and economic difficulties in importing national heritage art located abroad to India,” Ajay Seth, chairman of Copal Art, a leading art promotion platform, told IANS.

“The move will help bring heritage back to the country and also encourage display of good foreign art in India,” said Seth who is planning an exhibition of Rabindranath Tagore’s art in 2012.

“Several of Tagore’s important art works are located abroad and the removal of customs duty from imported art and antiquities for display will make it easy for us to buy some of his art and bring them back to India for a major exhibition,” Seth said.

However, Seth said he was “disappointed” over the outlay of Rs.785 crore (under the plan head) for culture in the budget, a marginal increase from Rs.735 crore in 2010-2011.

The government has allocated Rs.785 crore under the plan head and Rs.553 crore under non-plan head for art and culture, taking the total outlay to Rs.1,338 crore.

Gallerist Jain said: “I am sure a lot more will happen in the future to help the art industry, which needs support.”

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