The government on Friday introduced the ‘Antarctica Bill’ in the Lok Sabha that envisages regulating visits and activities to Antarctica as well potential disputes that may arise among those present on the continent. The Bill also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations.
The text of the Bill, which was introduced by Science Minister, Jitendra Singh, on Friday says that it seeks to “... prohibit Indian expedition to Antarctica or carrying of certain activities in Antarctica without a permit or the written authorisation of another party to the protocol…provide for inspection in India by an officer designated by the Central government as an Inspector and to constitute an inspection team to carry out inspections in Antarctica... .provide for the constitution of the fund to be called the Antarctic fund which shall be applied towards the welfare of Antarctic research work and protection of Antarctic environment…. provide for designated courts and their jurisdiction.”
Mr. Singh remarked in Parliament that India had been a signatory to the Antarctica Treaty since 1983 and that encumbered India to specify a set of laws governing portions of the continent where it had its research bases. “Antarctica is a no man’s land... It isn’t that India is making a law for a territory that doesn’t belong to it…. the question is if in the territory involving India’s research stations, some unlawful activity happens, how to check it? The Treaty made it mandatory for the 54 signatory countries to specify laws governing territories on which their stations are located. China has five, Russia has five, we have two,” said Mr. Singh.
India is also signatory to treaties such as the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, both of which enjoin India to help preserve the pristine nature of the continent.
“There is growing concern over preserving the pristine Antarctic environment and ocean around Antarctica from exploitation of marine living resources and human presence in Antarctica... India organises regular Antarctic expeditions and many persons from India visit Antarctica every year as tourists. In the future, the private ship and aviation industry will also start operations and promote tourism and fishing in Antarctica, which needs to be regulated. The continuing and growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica warrants a domestic legislation on Antarctica consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty. This is also in sync with the emergence of India as a global leader on important international fronts,” the text of the Bill notes.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress demanded to know how India had the right to make laws with penal provisions in territory that didn’t belong to it and Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress also wanted to know, on similar lines, how India could enact Indian law in a ‘no man’s land’ and whether there would be a bureaucratic set up in place to govern matters concerning Antarctica. They both demanded that the Bill be passed to a Select or Standing Committee of Parliament for a deeper analysis.
M. Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences told The Hindu that not only was India obliged to have such under obligations but it would also clearly establish that any illegal act or “crime” in Indian territory at Antarctica would mean that a person — even if they were a foreigner — would be subject to Indian laws. “This law also specifies that if there was an accident, or say an oil spill, to happen due to a ship in Antarctic territory, how accountability could be fixed. Currently there’s no system.” He added that a discussion on the Bill was expected in the House next week.
Following its first expedition to Antarctica in 1982, India has now established two standing research stations, Bharti and Maitri, at Antarctica. Both these places are permanently manned by researchers.