Tax officials are hoping for a windfall with the auction on Tuesday of rare oil paintings that were once part of fugitive billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi's collection and have been seized by the government.
As many as 68 art works are expected to fetch anywhere between Rupees 30 crores and Rupees 50 Crores ($4.4 million-$7.3 million) in the auction to be held in Mumbai.
Auctioneers say the sale is the first of its kind in a country where tax authorities have usually auctioned property, gold and luxury items, but not art.
After a court order allowing the auction to take place, tax authorities appointed professional auction house Saffronart.
"Until a few years ago, the tax authorities really didn't know the value of art," said Farah Siddiqui, an art adviser who is advising clients eyeing Modi's collection.
The auction includes works by Raja Ravi Varma, a 19th century painter and VS Gaitonde, a modern artist known for his abstract and often monochromatic paintings.
"We believe that the collection's intrinsic value will garner a positive response from collectors," said Saffronart Chief Executive Dinesh Vazirani.
India Law Alliance, a law firm representing the company controlled by Modi that owns the artwork, said it was challenging the court order that allowed the auction. The case will be heard by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday, a lawyer at the firm told Reuters.
Vijay Aggarwal, a lawyer for Modi, declined to comment.
The 48-year-old and his uncle Mehul Choksi are the prime accused in the Punjab National Bank scam involving fake guarantees in the name of the state-run lender to secure loans overseas. Nirav Modi denies the charges and believes they are politically motivated.
Nirav Modi fled the country last year and has been residing in the United Kingdom.
He was arrested last week by British authorities and remanded in custody after he appeared before a London court. India asked Britain last August to extradite Modi.
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