New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha passed the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022 on Monday, to assist in protecting the frozen continent where India operates research centres and is part of several scientific explorations. The Bill aims at making it easier for the government to ensure that research and other activities conducted at the South Pole by its citizens do not violate any of the international treaties to which India is a party.
The Bill was passed with a voice vote amid Opposition uproar over various issues that included price rise, increased rate of Goods and Services Tax and Enforcement Directorate’s action against Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut. The Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022 provides ‘for the national measures for protecting the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty’.
The Bill was passed by the Lok sabha on July 22. The Bill also provides a regulatory framework for India’s Antarctic activities through legal mechanisms which will help in the efficient operation of the Indian Antarctic Programme. It confers jurisdiction on Indian courts to deal with crimes and disputes committed by Indian citizens in parts of Antarctica. It plans to facilitate India’s involvement in the management of tourism in the Antarctic and the sustainable development of fisheries. It also aims to increase India’s international visibility and credibility in Polar governance for cooperation in scientific studies and logistics.
The Bill plans to set up Indian Antarctic Authority (IAA) as an apex decision-making authority under the Earth Sciences Ministry, to provide an accountable process for supervision of Antarctic research and expeditions. The Bill prohibits activities that contaminate the Antarctic continent including, nuclear explosion and radioactive waste disposal, the introduction of non-sterile soil, and the discharge of plastic, garbage and other substance into the sea. During a discussion on the Bill, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Earth Sciences, Jitendra Singh said, the purpose of the Bill is to ensure de-militarisation of the (Antarctic) region along with getting rid of mining or illegal activities.
Antarctica is the southernmost continent and does not have any indigenous population. The entire region is demilitarized and is used for scientific and peaceful purposes as per the Antarctic Treaty that came into force on June 23, 1961. The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959, by 12 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the US. Their objective was to demilitarise Antarctica, promote international scientific cooperation, and to set aside territorial sovereignty disputes. In the following years, more countries joined the Antarctic treaty.
There are now 54 members, of which 29 countries have consultative (voting) status in the Antarctic Consultative Meetings held annually and 25 countries have non-consultative membership. India became a member of the Antarctic Treaty on August 19, 1983, and on September 12 of the same year, it received consultative status. Following the Antarctic treaty, member countries signed the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources at Canberra in 1980 which India ratified in 1985. The countries also signed the ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol) in 1991, which designates the continent as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.