Govt has not estimated value of Air India’s iconic ‘The Maharaja Collection’: Civil Aviation Ministry

The Ministry of Civil Aviation confirmed on Thursday that the government is yet to estimate the value of the much-revered “The Maharaja Collection” of Air India. However, the ministry did confirm that Air India’s “The Maharaja Collection” has approximately 4,840 paintings and 2,390 other objects.

Presently, the Art and Artifacts of Air India are kept in the Air India Building in Mumbai under 24×7 CCTV surveillance, which is supervised by Air India security, noted VK Singh, minister of state, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

Responding to a question on whether any artwork has been stolen, lost or damaged, Singh wrote, “One painting “Flying Apsara” was found stolen/misplaced, which was subsequently recovered and an FIR in the case was registered with Delhi Police.”

He also added that according to Air India records, 19 paintings were destroyed in various fire incidents, two were scrapped, one was broken and a few were not traceable.

On October 8, the government had announced that Talace Private Limited — a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tata Sons — had won the bid to acquire debt-laden Air India. Tata had outbid a consortium led by SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh by offering Rs 18,000 crore.

The government will hand over Air India to Tata Sons. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had stated on December 3 that the Air India transfer will be completed in the next 1 to 1.5 months.

However, the art collection is likely to stay with the government as it hands over the national carrier to Tata.

In October, it was reported that Air India’s invaluable art collection was in the process of being transferred to the Ministry of Culture. News agency PTI had reported that the collection was to be displayed at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) after the airline’s sale to the Tata Group.

“We have been trying to procure the Air India artefacts for some time. So, it’s an ongoing process. Recently we had a meeting with officials of Air India,” NGMA Director-General Adwaita Gadanayak had told the agency. “Now, the file (of the transfer) is with the Ministry of Culture and hopefully we will be able to get them and display at NGMA,” he added.

What is in “The Maharaja Collection” of Air India

“The Maharaja Collection” of Air India includes works of legendary artists like M F Husain, Anjolie Ela Menon, Jatin Das, S H Raza, V S Gaitonde and K A Ara. Air India has stated that several of the paintings in the collection came under the airline’s possession when the artists were not well-known among the masses. Some artists had also readily availed Air India’s unique option of bartering their artwork for a flight ticket.

The art collection includes stone sculptures dating back to the ninth century, woodwork, decorative friezes and a collection of exquisite clocks. The clock collection includes a mantle clock in an ebonised break-arch wood case, which is said to have been made in London in 1845.

The man behind Air India’s “The Maharaja Collection” is its former chairman JRD Tata. Due to his efforts, the artwork was displayed on the office walls of Air India in cities like Paris, London, Rome, Geneva and Cairo which provided a glimpse into the rich Indian culture to the visiting people.

In 2018, officials had told PTI that the preservation of the collection had been suffering due to the then uncertainty over the future of Air India.

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