India has come a long way since 1982 in terms of scientific accomplishments in Antarctica.
India started its first expedition in Antarctica more than three decades ago. India marked its presence in Antarctica on 9th January 1982. India has recorded 41 Scientific Expeditions and 30 explorations so far steered by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research of India. In consonance with the environmental protocol of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, India has set up three research stations in Antarctica to date.
This is the first base station for scientific research from India that was built in Antarctica. It was founded in 1983–1984 and is situated 2,500 miles from the South Pole. This was the first time an Indian research team spent a winter working in Antarctica. It was unearthed in 1989 and is being utilised as a transit camp and supply base. An 81-person team worked for eight weeks to erect Dakshin Gangotri, which was finished in January 1984.
The second research station Maitri was established on the Schirmacher Oasis in 1988 in a stony, ice-free location. The structure, which was constructed on steel stilts, has withstood the test of time and has been used to undertake research in geology, geography, and medicine. It can accommodate 25 people in the main structure during the summer and the winter, and roughly 40 people in the summer facility made up of dwelling modules made of shipping containers. The station consists of a single main structure, a fuel farm, a gasoline station, and a pump house for a freshwater lake (Priyadarshini). Every year, the summer and winter research teams are hosted at Maitri, which serves as the entry point for Indian scientists seeking to explore the interior mountains of Antarctica.
In 2015, Bharati was founded next to Larsmann Hill, around 3000 kilometres east of Maitri. East of the Stornes Peninsula in Antarctica, it is situated between Thala Fjord and Quilty Bay. With the use of its most recent technologies, researchers can better grasp the geological history of the Indian subcontinent. India and Antarctica previously shared a shoreline with Gondwanaland, the southernmost portion of the supercontinent Pangaea. India joined the exclusive group of nine countries with numerous stations in the region thanks to Bharati. Bharati may be totally dismantled and removed in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System without leaving even a brick behind.
Recently, India masterfully began the 41st Scientific Expedition to Antarctica on November 15, 2021. The initial group of 23 scientists and support staff from India’s scientific expedition to the Antarctic landed in Maitri, the second Indian Antarctic station. By the middle of January 2022, four additional batches were expected in Antarctica. Since 1981, the Indian Antarctic Programme has sent 40 scientific expeditions.
The Indian Antarctic Act, 2022
To “protect 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 Resource,” and related protocols that India has signed as part of the larger framework of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), the Antarctic legislation is being put into place. The Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) actually consists of the main Treaty (1959) and other related conventions and protocols, most notably the Madrid Protocol (1991) and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, 1980).
The importance of strengthening the ATS is highlighted by these protocols and conventions, which guarantee that Antarctica “shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.”
The Bill itself explains the justification for a piece of legislation pertaining to the Antarctic. The proposed Act expresses “growing concerns over protecting the pristine Antarctic environment and ocean from the exploitation of marine living resources and human presence in Antarctica,” but it also prominently emphasises that “in the future, the private ship and aviation industry will also start operations and promote tourism and fishing in Antarctica, which needs to be regulated.”
The document persists that, “the continuing and growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica warrants a domestic legislation on Antarctica consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty.” The Act adds that it “is also in sync with the emergence of India as a global leader on important international fronts.”
The Act also lays out a structure for government officials to inspect a vessel, and conduct checks of research facilities. It also directs the creation of a fund called the Antarctic Fund that will be used for protecting the Antarctic environment. Apart from that the Act extends the jurisdiction of Indian courts to Antarctica and lays out penal provisions for crimes on the continent by Indian citizens, foreign citizens who are a part of Indian expeditions, or are in the precincts of Indian research stations.
India established the Bharti and Maitri standing research stations in Antarctica after its first voyage there in 1982. Both of these locations have researchers working there all the time. A “Committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection” is also created by the Act. The Act forbids mining, dredging, and other activities that endanger the continent’s natural environment. Additionally, it forbids the testing of nuclear weapons as well as the disposal of garbage by any kind of vehicle, ship, or aircraft in Antarctica.
Any person, vessel, or aircraft registered in India or outside of India that is part of an Indian expedition to Antarctica under a permit issued under this Act is subject to the proposed Act, as are citizens of India, citizens of any other nation, companies, bodies corporate, corporations, partnership firms, joint ventures, associations of persons, or any other entity incorporated, established, or registered as such under any law in force in India.
However, the Act was criticised by the opposition on the ground that Indian Courts having jurisdiction seems to be a strange situation as foreign nationals will be punished for activities on a foreign land under Indian Law. The argument was defended by the Union Minister for Earth Sciences Jitendra Singh stating, the main goal of the pact was to ensure that Antarctica was demilitarised and that it was not utilised for military purposes or for any other improper purposes. The other goal was to stop countries from engaging in unlawful mining or other activities.
Also, one cannot forget having an unjustified experience of the Enrica Lexie case, in which Italian marines killed two Indian fishermen in 2012 off the coast of Kerala. The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in May 2020, which came after eight years, was a defeat for India because it recognised Italy’s claim of jurisdiction over the marines’ trial.
The Tribunal determined that the Italian marines were “entitled to immunity in relation to the acts that they committed during the incident and that India is precluded from exercising its criminal jurisdiction over the Marines.” Nobody is certain how the expansion of jurisdiction to a remote region like Antarctica would go in the usual manner, especially if the targets assert official immunity. If this could occur in a region so close to Indian coasts. However, the Bill’s stated goals, which are to guarantee the strict adherence of contracting parties to the ATS’s requirements, are just.
With the absence of a native population, Antarctica is a remote landmass, although there are human colonies where scientists and the employees who support them live and work year-round. As many as 30,000 people visit Antarctica annually to explore the planet’s most beautiful characteristics, earning the moniker definition as ‘world’s most significant natural laboratories.’ Insofar as its significant influence on the global climate and ocean systems is a subject of extensive study investigation, it is even more crucial for science. Despite its fragility and vulnerability, it is thought that rich oil and mineral riches can be found in Antarctica. That is what draws the superpowers of the world.
On the other hand, China’s behaviour in the South China Sea gives cause for concern for Antarctic nations who fear that China will continue down the same path, challenging other countries to defy it, with its rapid station building on the continent and increasing presence in the Convergence.
On a variety of issues relating to the Arctic and Antarctica, India can easily negotiate with the US and Russia. According to all appearances, India is aware of these geopolitical realities. India’s polar engagement might be considered a representation of its own leadership position since it is a nation with higher global aspirations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies
Title image courtesy: http://opportunities.alumdev.columbia.edu/research-centre-of-india-in-antarctica.php
1. Seethi KM, ‘Not Just a Treaty Requirement, New Antarctic Law Reflects India’s Geopolitical Concerns’ (The Wire, 1 August 2022) <https://thewire.in/science/india-antarctic-policy-global-leader> accessed 19 June 2023
3. THE HINDU BUREAU, ‘Lok Sabha Passes Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022’ The Hindu (22 July 2022) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lok-sabha-passes-indian-antarctic-bill-2022/article65670775.ece> accessed 19 June 2023