In news– Nearly 40 years after India first signed the Antarctic Treaty, the government has brought in a draft Indian Antarctic Bill-2022 to regulate and monitor activities at its research stations in the frozen continent.
Key features of the bill-
- The aim of the Bill is to bring in penal provisions for breaking the law in Antarctica.
- It is a comprehensive document of regulations, particularly keeping in mind environmental protection and the fragile nature of the region.
- The Bill has listed strict guidelines and a system of permits, which will be issued by a government-appointed committee, without which any expedition or individual will not be allowed to enter Antarctica.
- The Committee will comprise of the Secretary Earth Sciences ministry and will also have officials from Defence, Ministry of External Affairs, Finance, Fisheries, Legal Affairs, Science and Technology, Shipping, Tourism, Environment, Communication and Space ministries along with a member from the National Center for Polar and Ocean Research and National Security Council Secretariat and experts on Antarctica.
- The permits can be cancelled by the Committee if deficiencies are found or activities in contravention of the law are detected.
- It extends the jurisdiction of Indian courts to Antarctica, and the investigation and trial for crimes committed on the Arctic continent.
- While India does not carry out commercial fishing in the area, since every country has an allotted quota, the Bill now provides for this activity.
- However, strict guidelines are in place in accordance with international law.
- Like fishing, while India does not carry out any tourism activity in the region, the Bill now enables Indian tour operators to operate in Antarctica, circumscribed by strict regulations.
- The Bill further enlists elaborate standards for environmental protection as well as waste management.
- The Bill prohibits drilling, dredging, excavation or collection of mineral resources or even doing anything to identify where such mineral deposits occur — the only exception is for scientific research with a granted permit.
- Damaging of native plants, flying or landing helicopters or operating vessels that could disturb birds and seals, using firearms that could disturb the birds and animals, remove soil or any biological material native to Antarctica, engage in any activity that could adversely change the habitat of birds and animals, kill, injure or capture any bird or animal have been strictly prohibited.
- The introduction of animals, birds, plants or microscopic organisms that are not native to Antarctica are also prohibited.
- Extraction of species for scientific research needs to be done through a permit and the central government can also appoint an officer to carry out inspections.
- The draft Bill proposes the setting up of a separate designated court to try crimes committed in Antarctica.
- The Bill further sets high penal provisions — the lowest penalty comprising an imprisonment between one-two years and a penalty of Rs 10-50 lakh.
- Once the Bill comes into force, it will apply to Indians, foreign citizens, corporations, firms and joint ventures functioning in India, and any vessel or aircraft that is either Indian or part of an Indian expedition.
- There are 40 permanent research stations in Antarctica of which two – Maitri and Bharati — are Indian.
- It was signed in 1959 by 12 countries — Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Union of South Africa, USSR, the UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the US of America, and came into force in 1961.
- The Treaty covers the area south of 60°S latitude.
- The objectives of the treaty are to demilitarize Antarctica and establish it as a zone used for peaceful research activities and to set aside any disputes regarding territorial sovereignty, thereby ensuring international cooperation.
- Currently, 54 nations are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, but only 29 nations have a right to vote at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings – this includes India.
- India signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 and received consultative status the same year.
- The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was set up in 1980 for the protection and preservation of the Antarctic environment and, in particular, for the preservation and conservation of marine living resources in Antarctica.
- The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1991 and came into force in 1998.
- It designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”.
Further reading: https://journalsofindia.com/antarctica-a-continent-of-superlatives/