India to lose presence on U.N. scientific panel

No candidate was fielded for elections to the Commission on Legal Continental Shelf

March 13, 2017 12:57 am | Updated 08:29 am IST - NEW DELHI

Even as India strenuously lobbies for seats in global high tables such as the United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it will — for the first time in two decades — not have a member in a prestigious, U.N. scientific body that decides what portions of the seabed can be exclusively mined for natural resources such as oil, precious metals and minerals.

India’s current member to the 21-person body, called Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS) and part of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), told The Hindu that he was “anguished” by India’s decision not to field a candidate for the upcoming election.

According to officials of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), the date to send a nomination lapsed on March 7. Multiple sources said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which formally nominates Indian candidates, chose to nominate a person to another U.N. body, called the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

“The MoES is the nodal Ministry of the Government for the Law of the Sea-related issues. However, the MEA went on to nominate a retired Joint Secretary-level officer for ITLOS membership, whereas the MoES candidate for CLCS was not agreed to by the MEA,” an official source said. Despite several representations by the MoES Secretary at various levels, the issue was not addressed, the source said. MoES Secretary Madhavan Rajeevan didn’t comment on The Hindu ’s queries.

The CLCS has a five-year tenure and elections are due in June for the 2017-2022 term. Not having an Indian in this 21-member group would mean that China and Pakistan would likely “grab” two of the five seats allotted to the so-called Asia-Pacific group, Rasik Ravindra, India’s current member of the CLCS, said from New York, where he’s attending the CLCS’s last meeting for the 2012-2017-term ending in June.

Seabed demarcation

Apart from signalling prestige, a membership of the commission allows India to gauge the scientific strength of claims by countries to parts of the seabed that, like territorial waters, are often hard to demarcate. Such information is privy only to participants. India has had disputes with several neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — over how the continental shelf (the seabed under the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal) can be fairly distributed.

India has huge interest in CLCS and applied for extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 350 nautical miles from the existing 200 nautical miles. India’s submission to CLCS will likely come up for scrutiny later this year, and Sri Lanka, which has claimed a larger area than India, will be examined first. India’s application number is 48, while Sri Lanka’s is 43.

“The presence of an Indian at this strategic period is essential and in national interest,” Mr. Ravindra told The Hindu in a text message. As a former Director of India’s National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), he led the scientific expedition and analysis to determine the extent of India’s continental shelf.

Fielding candidates for ITLOS and CLCS would require India’s Permanent Commission to The United Nations, which coordinates the process, to canvass for votes for both positions and could reduce future “diplomatic leverage,” said a person familiar with UNCLOS proceedings. “It’s also one of those rare occasions when there’s been a vacancy in both ITLOS and CLCS…and maybe the MEA deems ITLOS more important,” the person added.

When contacted, MEA spokesperson Gopal Baglay said he did not have any comment to offer.

In CLCS, the sitting members from the Asia-Pacific region are China, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Malaysia and India, and all countries, except India, are learnt to be sending candidates for both posts.

While ITLOS is a judge position and the appointee is paid annual wages, there is no remuneration for the sitting CLCS member.

India became a signatory to the UNCLOS in 1982 and has had continuous representation in CLCS, ITLOS and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) since their inception in 1997, 1996 and 1994 respectively.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.