The Lok Sabha passed the Indian Antarctic Bill on Friday, which Union Minister Jitendra Singh had initially introduced in the lower house on April 1—nearly 40 years to the day after India signed the Antarctic Treaty.
43 people joined India’s 40th research mission to Antarctica, which started in January of this year.
What is Indian Antarctic Bill?
The Indian Antarctic Bill, which aims to implement the Antarctic Treaty, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, was introduced in the Parliament in April of this year.
It went into force last Friday and aims to control activities in Antarctica that accelerate climate change and endanger the continent’s delicate ecosystem.
A central committee overseen by the Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences will implement and ensure adherence to relevant international regulations for the preservation of the Antarctic ecosystem, grant permits for various activities there, collect and analyze relevant data provided by parties to the Treaty, Convention , and Protocol, and negotiate fees or charges with third parties for such activities.
There would be permits provided for Indian expeditions in Antarctica, for people to stay at Indian stations in Antarctica, for aircraft or vehicles to enter or stay in Antarctica, for waste disposal, for drilling for resources there, and for activities that would endanger the local wildlife.
The measure also forbids the detonation of nuclear weapons or the release of radioactive waste into Antarctica, the introduction of non-sterile soil, and the dumping of trash, plastic, or other potentially harmful items into the ocean.
Plans to set up Indian Antarctic Authority
The bill also suggests creating the Indian Antarctic Authority (IAA), an apex decision-making body that will facilitate the programs and activities allowed by the bill and offer a reliable, transparent, and accountable process for the sponsorship and oversight of Antarctic research and expeditions . The IAA would be housed under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
The Center issued a statement in which it stated that the initiative “would ensure the protection and preservation of the Antarctic environment, and shall ensure compliance by Indian people participating in the Antarctic programs and activities with relevant norms and internationally recognized standards.” The Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences will serve as the body’s leader, and the official members will represent the relevant ministries.
Why is the Bill important?
It is no secret that climate change and global warming are melting glaciers all over the world. The frigid world has also suffered from this, and scientists agree that the consequences of these melting glaciers will be fatal.
India pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 at CoP26. The bold new targets with a five-fold strategy need India not only to walk the talk but run the talk.
One such move toward the nation’s attaining its climate goals is the Indian Antarctic Bill.
According to the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and Technology, “it will facilitate India’s interest and proactive involvement in the management of growing Antarctic tourism and sustainable development of fisheries resources in Antarctic waters.” It will also “help in the efficient and effective operations of the Indian Antarctic Program.”
It is the first domestic law pertaining to Antarctica in India. In twenty-seven other countries, local laws already apply to Antarctica.
What is the Antarctic Treaty?
The Soviet Union, United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Island, and The US were among the 12 countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. The treaty later entered into force in 1961.
The Agreement applies to the region south of 60 degrees South latitude. The agreement’s goals are to demilitarize Antarctica and develop it as a region for peaceful research, as well as to lay any geographical sovereignty conflicts to rest, guaranteeing global cooperation.
The Antarctic Treaty now has 54 members, although only 29 countries have voting rights at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, including India.
The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was founded in 1980 to safeguard and preserve the Antarctic ecosystem, specifically the restoration and preservation of Antarctic marine habitats.
The Antarctic Treaty Protocol on Environmental Conservation was signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1998. Antarctica is designated as a “natural reserve dedicated to peace and science,” according to the treaty.
Is the 1983 Antarctic Treaty violated by the Indian Antarctic Bill 2022?
One of the primary concerns voiced during the development of the Indian Antarctic Bill 2022 was that it would conflict with the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed by nations in 1983. In response to the brief discussion of the bill, Singh stated that India joined the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 after it was signed in 1959.
“In order to guarantee the demilitarization of the region, the treaty’s primary goal was to ensure that Antarctica was not utilized for military purposes or was not otherwise abused. The other goal was to stop countries from engaging in unlawful mining or other activities,” added the minister.
The Science minister further said, “This is more or less no man’s land. No one should conduct a nuclear explosion on that land. The main goal of the pact was to make sure that the nations that have institutions there only conduct research or trials connected to geography and climate,” cited by PTI.
In order to conduct the research initiatives in Antarctica, a committee led by the secretary of Earth sciences and members of other ministries would be established, according to Singh.
The emphasis ministered that once the measure is passed, “Indian laws will be applicable in the region occupied by Indian institutions and Indian personnel residing in that continent.”
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