From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Antarctic Treaty
Mains level : Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022
The government has introduced the ‘Antarctica Bill, 2022’ in the Lok Sabha that envisages regulating visits and activities to Antarctica as well potential disputes that may arise among those present on the continent.
Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022
Aims and objectives:
- To provide for national measures to protect the Antarctic environment and associated ecosystems and to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty
- To provide a harmonious policy framework for India’s Antarctic activities through a well-established legal mechanism
- Facilitate activities of the Indian Antarctic programme, including management of Antarctic tourism and sustainable development of fisheries
- To prohibit Indian expedition to Antarctica or carrying of certain activities in Antarctica without a permit or the written authorisation of another party to the protocol
- To provide for inspection in India by an officer designated by the Central government as an Inspector and to constitute an inspection team to carry out inspections in Antarctica
Key feature: Committee on Antarctic governance
- It will empower the government to establish a committee on Antarctic governance and environmental protection to monitor, implement and ensure compliance with the relevant international laws, emissions standards and rules of protection.
- The panel is to be headed by the secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, as ex officio chairperson.
- Among other roles, he has also been the vice-president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research of the International Science Council since 2018.
- The committee will have ten members from various ministries, departments and organizations of the Union government, plus two experts on the Antarctic environment or other relevant areas.
About Antarctica Treaty
- Antarctica has a geographical area of 14 million sq. km and has had no indigenous population (i.e. “Antarcticans” don’t exist).
- However, a few thousand people reside there, in some 40 research stations spread across the continent, throughout the year.
- In 1959, 12 countries – Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the US signed the ‘Antarctic Treaty’.
- Their aim was to prevent the continent from being militarised and to establish it as a centre of peaceful activities.
- Later, more countries, including India, have become party to the treaty, and today it counts more than 54 members.
- The treaty requires each party to take appropriate measures within its competence, including the adoption of laws and regulations, administrative actions and enforcement measures, to ensure compliance with the protocol.
- Countries also signed the ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection’ to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, which designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”.
Need for the Antarctic Legislation
- The growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica and the commitment to Antarctic research and protection prompted the government to adopt domestic legislation consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty system.
- These laws will enable India’s courts to deal with disputes or crimes committed in parts of Antarctica, and help build credibility vis-à-vis India’s participation.
India at the Poles
- India maintains two research stations on the continent: ‘Maitri’ (commissioned in 1989) at Schirmacher Hills and ‘Bharati’ (2012) at Larsemann Hills.
- It has also launched 41 scientific expeditions every year thus far.
- Together with the ‘Himadri’ station in Svalbard, above the Arctic circle, India is among an elite group of countries with multiple research in the polar regions.