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India one step closer to establishing Authority on Frigid Land with Indian Antarctic Bill 2022

Source : News18

India one step closer to establishing Authority on Frigid Land with Indian Antarctic Bill 2022
Govt of India introduced Indian Antarctic Bill 2022 in Lok Sabha which was passed in the House with prior approval.



The Lok Sabha on Friday gave its nod to the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022, paving the way for India’s first such legislation drafted exclusively for the pristine continent which remains a no-man’s land. The bill will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha before it can become a law.

The draft bill sets in motion the country’s plan to establish some authority on the frigid land, which can allow the government to keep a check on any violations happening in and around its base in Antarctica. Till date, India neither has any laws governing its activities on the continent, nor any authority to issue permits for any kind of expeditions.

APEX AUTHORITY

The government has proposed to set up an Indian Antarctic Authority (IAA) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, which will act as the apex decision-making authority for matters related to the continent. It will also establish processes for the sponsorship and supervision of Antarctic research and expeditions, while ensuring compliance by Indian citizens engaged in the Antarctic programmes and activities with relevant rules and internationally agreed standards. The IAA will be headed by Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, as the chairperson and will have official members from the India ministries concerned and decisions will be by consensus.

PERMITS TO VISIT ANTARCTICA

The Committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection to be set up under the bill will issue permits without which no person will enter or remain in an Indian station in Antarctica, unless they have authorisation from any other party to the protocol. It will monitor, implement and ensure compliance of the relevant international laws, and rules for the protection of Antarctic environment by the operators or by any other persons engaging in programmes and activities on Antarctica. The draft also makes a provision for inspection by any designated government official, and provide for penalty for contravention of certain provisions of the Bill.

CAN INDIA MAKE A LAW IN NO-MAN’S LAND?

While no single country can stake any claim on any part of Antarctica, they have liberty to govern the areas where they have set up their research stations. Over the years, several countries have laid down their laws to enforce the existing global treaties more effectively and keep a check on any violations. India, so far neither had any law, nor any teeth to take action if a violation takes place.

The enforcement of such laws will confer jurisdiction on the courts of India to deal with any dispute or crimes committed in parts of Antarctica. Legislation of such a kind will bind the citizens to the policies of the Antarctic treaty system. The bill will be applicable on Indian citizens, as well as foreign citizens, and any company registered in India or any sea vessel registered in India.

“The bill provides harmonious policy and regulatory framework for India’s Antarctic activities through well-established legal mechanism,” Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences Dr Jitendra Singh told Lok Sabha while introducing the bill on Friday. “The main aim is to ensure de-militarization of the region along with getting it rid of mining or illegal activities. It also aims that there should not be any nuclear test/explosion in the region.”

With continued presence of Indian scientists in research stations in Antarctica, the bill will help the country to bolster its visibility and credibility in international polar research and governance. This is critical in view of the growing presence of countries on the continent and apprehensions of it becoming a potential site of international discord in future. The government is also looking at it from the perspective of India’s interest and pro-active involvement in the management of growing Antarctic tourism and sustainable development of fisheries resources in Antarctic waters.

HOW IS ANTARCTICA GOVERNED?

The continent is a no-man’s land — a natural reserve that belongs to no country. It is only governed by global agreements — Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol on Environment Protection to the Antarctic Treaty or ‘Madrid Protocol’, and the 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. India is a signatory to all three treaties and the proposed bill is in adherence to them.

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty now has close to 54 countries on board, of which 29 countries — including India — have the status of Consultative Party with a right to vote in the Antarctic Consultative meetings.

INDIA’S PRESENCE IN ANTARCTICA

Currently, India has two operational research stations in Antarctica named Maitri, commissioned in 1989, and Bharati, commissioned in 2012. India has successfully launched 40 annual scientific expeditions to Antarctica till date. With Himadri station in Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Arctic, India now belongs to the elite group of nations that have multiple research stations within the Polar Regions.

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