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Moral Rights for Moral Wrongs: Dismantling the ‘Flight of Steel’

If you are an artist or sculptor, or just someone who appreciates good art, the recent episode concerning the destruction and dumping of ‘The Flight of Steel’, an iconic sculpture later renamed ‘Murga Chowk’, is sure to irk you to an uncomfortable degree. This is the story of how a seventy year old artist who, after being commissioned to design and construct a steel sculpture for the Bhilai Steel Plant, was forced to suffer grave humiliation and possibly a violation of his rights under the Copyright Act.

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Jatin Das, an eminent artist and sculptor, was informed by the guards at thesteel plant that his sculpture had been ‘taken away’ to a zoo known as Maitri Garden. When he visited the zoo premises, much to his dismay, he found bits of his sculpture strewn around, with nothing to suggest that the sculpture was going to be installed there. In fact, he found different bits of the sculpture in various places, indicating a disorganised plan to re-install the sculpture at a different location – if at all that was the intention.

The BSP officials tried to explain their actions by stating that “one of the flyovers being constructed in the township passes over the intersection which housed the artifacts”. They even went to the extent of claiming that the sculpture was ‘carefully removed’, with a view towards re-installing it at a later point in time. However, the photographs below suggest a different picture – the dismantling was done hurriedly and the zoo premises has more rubble than a carefully executed relocation procedure would allow.

While the anger expressed by Jatin Das is understandable, especially since he was not even informed of such plans, there is also a case to be made about a violation of his legal right. In the landmark case of Amar Nath Sehgal vs Union of India, which was the first Indian case to recognise the moral rights of an author and award damages for a violation of this right. The facts relating to the ‘The Flight of Steel’ case are remarkably similar to the those in Amar Nath Sehgal. In the latter, the renowned artist and sculptor Amar Nath Sehgal, was commissioned by the Ministry of Works, Housing and Supplies in 1959 to design and construct a mural. The mural was set to be placed around a central arch of the Vigyan Bhawan, a well-known convention centre in New Delhi, where the government hosts and organises several events. The construction, which then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru personally approved, was completed in 1962. However, in the course of renovation in the year 1979, the mural was removed and only bits and pieces remained of the iconic sculpture that had previously attracted large gatherings and earned widespread acclaim.bhilai 2

Amar Nath Sehgal brought a suit against the government and argued that the dismantling and dismemberment of his mural constituted ‘mutilation’ (as stated in Section 57 of the Copyright Act) which compromised his honour and reputation as an artist. Further, his right to be attributed as an author was violated since since no sculpture remained and his name on the work had been obliterated. The defence focused on issues of assignment, ownership and dispute resolution mechanisms, effectively conceding that there had been an unauthorised  removal of Sehgal’s mural. The judge awarded damages amounting to Rs. 5,00,000 to Amar Nath Sehgal, relying on the statutory protection afforded to artists under the Copyright Act.

It seems that a similar claim may be raised by Jatin Das. If it is proved that the sculpture has been damaged beyond repair, it is likely that he will be awarded damages as well. For now, we request our readers to spread the word about this incident and share this protest note.

(Images courtesy Jatin Das. Photograph by Raghi Rai)

This post was first published on SpicyIP.

About Amlan Mohanty

Amlan is a lawyer based in India. He engages in research, writing, speaking and teaching at the intersection of technology, law and policy.