Centre introduces Indian Antarctic Bill in Parliament
The Union earth sciences ministry on Friday introduced the Indian Antarctic Bill in Parliament, a legislative step to provide regulatory backup to the country’s activities on the ice continent, four decades after India’s first scientific expedition to Antarctica.
The ministry said the proposed legislation will provide for national measures to protect the Antarctic environment by permitting certain activities such as scientific expeditions but also prohibiting certain activities such as introducing specified substances or products into Antarctica.
It is also expected to facilitate “India’s interest and proactive involvement in the management of growing Antarctic tourism and the sustainable development of fisheries resources in Antarctic waters”, the ministry said in an explanatory note on the bill.
The ministry said many people from India are already visiting Antarctica as tourists and, in the future, the private shipping and aviation industry might promote tourism and fishing in Antarctica that would need to be regulated through legislation.
Another clause in the bill provides for a special permit to be sought from the Secretariat of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources — a global body — for commercial fishing in Antarctic waters.
India has launched 41 annual scientific expeditions to Antarctica since 1981 and maintains two research stations there — Maitri, commissioned in 1989, and Bharati, commissioned in 2012 — where scientists have been conducting studies across myriad fields -- climate science, geology, biology, among others.
The proposed legislation provides for national measures to protect the Antarctic environment and associated ecosystem and give effect to the Antarctic Treaty that India had signed in 1983. The Treaty seeks to demilitarize Antarctica and establish it as a zone for peaceful research activities.
Currently 54 countries have agreed to the Antarctic Treaty, but only 29 countries, including India, have a right to vote at its consultative meetings. Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US are among the other countries with the right to vote.
The growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica and concurrent commitment to Antarctic studies and protection of the continent’s fragile ecosystem warrants the adoption of domestic legislation consistent with obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty, the ministry said.
The proposed legislation will bind Indian citizens to the policies of the Antarctic Treaty.
The bill has proposed the creation of a committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection (CAG-EP) under the earth sciences ministry, the apex decision making body to facilitate activities permitted under the proposed legislation.