The story so far: The Union government on Friday introduced the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022, that aims to lay down a set of rules to regulate a range of activities on territories in Antarctica where India has set up research stations.
What does the Antarctic Bill envisage?
Introduced by Union Science Minister, Jitendra Singh in the Lok Sabha, the Bill envisages regulating visits and activities to Antarctica as well as potential disputes that may arise among those present on the continent. It also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations. If the Bill were to become law, 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 Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 — India joined the Treaty System in 1983.
The Bill also lays out a structure for government officials to inspect a vessel and conduct checks of research facilities. The draft also directs the creation of a fund called the Antarctic fund that will be used for protecting the Antarctic environment. The Bill extends 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, Bharati 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 prohibits mining, dredging and activities that threaten the pristine conditions of the continent. It bans any person, vessel or aircraft from disposing waste in Antarctica and bars the testing of nuclear devices.
The Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022 introduced in the Lok Sabha envisages regulating visits and activities to the Antarctic. It also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations.
India is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty which came into force on June 23, 1961. Of the 54 signatory countries, 29 have ‘consultative’ status that give them voting rights. The Treaty parties meet each year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
India has now established two standing research stations in Antarctica, Bharati and Maitri. The major thrust areas of the Indian Antarctic Programme are climate processes and links to climate change, environmental processes and conservation and polar technology.
Why was this Bill necessary?
Mr. Singh remarked in Parliament that India had been a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty since 1983, which obliged it 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 in the territory involving India’s research stations, if 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 the Protocol on the Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty— 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.
What is the history of the Antarctic Treaty?
The Antarctic Treaty came into force on June 23, 1961 after ratification by the 12 countries then active in Antarctic science.
The Treaty covers the area south of 60°S latitude. Its key objectives are to demilitarise Antarctica, to 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.
Of the 54 signatory countries, 29 have ‘consultative’ status that give them voting rights. The Treaty parties meet each year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. They have adopted over 300 recommendations and negotiated separate international agreements. These, together with the original Treaty, provide the rules which govern activities in the Antarctic. Collectively they are known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).
What research does India conduct at Antarctica?
India has organised 37 expeditions to Antarctica. The major thrust areas of the Indian Antarctic Programme are climate processes and links to climate change, environmental processes and conservation and polar technology. The operational expenditure of the Antarctic expedition is ₹90-110 crore annually depending on the projects and services.