An aerial view of India’s ‘Maitri’ research station on Antarctica, February 2005. Photo: Ministry of S&T/PIB
- India is a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Protocol on Environmental Protection.
- The country maintains two research stations on Antarctica – Maitri (since 1989) and Bharati (2012) – and has launched 41 expeditions to the continent thus far.
- The proposed law will aim to provide a harmonious policy framework for India’s Antarctic activities through a well-established legal mechanism.
New Delhi: On April 1, the Union minister of state (independent charge) for science and technology Jitendra Singh introduced a Bill in Parliament to provide for national measures to protect the Antarctic environment and associated ecosystems and to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty.
Antarctica has a geographical area of 14 million sq. km and has had no indigenous population (i.e. “Antarcticans” don’t exist). However, a few thousand people reside there, in some 40 research stations spread across the continent, throughout the year. In 1959, 12 countries – Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the US signed the ‘Antarctic Treaty’. Their aim was to prevent the continent from being militarised and to establish it as a centre of peaceful activities.
Later, more countries, including India, have become party to the treaty, and today it counts more than 54 members. As a follow up to the treaty, countries signed the ‘Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources’ at Canberra in 1980 to protect and preserve the Antarctic environment generally and marine living resources specifically. They also signed the ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection’ to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, which designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”.
India maintains two research stations on the continent: ‘Maitri’ (commissioned in 1989) at Schirmacher Hills and ‘Bharati’ (2012) at Larsemann Hills. It has also launched 41 scientific expeditions every year thus far. Together with ‘Himadri’ station in Svalbard, above the Arctic circle, India is among an elite group of countries with multiple research in the polar regions.
The growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica and the commitment to Antarctic research and protection prompted the government to adopt domestic legislation consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty system. These laws will enable India’s courts to deal with disputes or crimes committed in parts of Antarctica, and help build credibility vis-à-vis India’s participation.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to Antarctica Treaty requires each party to take appropriate measures within its competence, including the adoption of laws and regulations, administrative actions and enforcement measures, to ensure compliance with the protocol.
The new Bill introduced on Friday, entitled the ‘Indian Antarctic Bill 2022’, fulfils this requirement. Among other things, it will allow the government to establish a committee on Antarctic governance and environmental protection to monitor, implement and ensure compliance with the relevant international laws, emissions standards and rules of protection.
The panel is to be headed by the secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, as ex officio chairperson; this position is currently occupied by Muthalagu Ravichandran. Among other roles, he has also been the vice-president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research of the International Science Council since 2018.
The committee will have ten members from various ministries, departments and organisations of the Union government, plus two experts on the Antarctic environment or other relevant areas.
The proposed law will aim to provide a harmonious policy framework for India’s Antarctic activities through a well-established legal mechanism; facilitate activities of the Indian Antarctic programme, including management of Antarctic tourism and sustainable development of fisheries.