The Lok Sabha on Friday passed the Indian Antarctica Bill, 2022 amidst clamour from the Opposition to have more discussion.
There were no amendments to the text of the Bill that was passed after a voice vote. Earth Sciences Minister, Jitendra Singh, said that such a law was necessary under India’s obligations as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty of 1963.
The key objectives of the Treaty are to demilitarise Antarctica, establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only; to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica and to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.
The ‘Antarctica Bill’ was introduced in the Lok Sabha in April this year and its overarching aim is to regulate visits and activities to Antarctica as well set ground rules for potential disputes that may arise among those present on the continent. The Bill also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations.
Under the provisions of the Bill, private tours and expeditions to Antarctica would be prohibited without a permit or the written authorisation by a Member country. A Member country is one of the 54 signatories of the Treaty.
The Bill also lays out a structure for government officials to inspect a vessel, conduct checks of research facilities. The act also directs creating a fund called the Antarctic fund that will be used for protecting the Antarctic environment. The Bill also extending the jurisdiction of Indian courts to Antarctica and lays out penal provision for crimes on the continent by Indian citizens, foreign citizens who are a part of Indian expeditions, or are in the precincts of Indian research stations.
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. The Bill also establishes a ‘Committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection.’ The Bill also prohibits mining, dredging and activities that threaten the pristine conditions of the continent. It also prohibits any person, vessel or aircraft from disposing waste in Antarctica and bars the testing of nuclear devices.
Though the Bill was to have been debated extensively on Thursday, there were very few members of the Opposition in the House prompting Earth Sciences Minister, Jitendra Singh, who had introduced the Bill earlier this year, to request a discussion on Friday. BJP MP, Jayant Sinha and BJD MP, Bhartruhari Mahtab spoke in favour of the Bill.