The Government of India tabled The Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022 on the floor of the Lok Sabha on last April 1, 2022. (The Lok Sabha, constitutionally the House of the People, is the lower house of India’s bicameral Parliament,)
The Bill is introduced to “provide for the national measures for protecting 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 Resources and to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
While the Lok Sabha has passed the Bill, it will now be tabled in the Council of the States for passing.
India signed the Antarctic Treaty on August 19, 1983, and was soon granted the observer status on September 12, 1983. The protocol entered into force for India on January 14, 1998. India has active research stations Maitri (WAP IND-Ø3) at Schirmacher Hills, Bharati (WAP IND-Ø4) at Larsemann Hills as well as Himadri station in the Arctic — and it now belongs to the elite group of nations that have multiple research stations within the Polar Region.
Though there is no Arctic Bill, for the simple reason that there is no Arctic Treaty, India did roll out its Arctic Policy in January 2021. There are currently five states from Asia that enjoy the status of ‘Observer’ in the Arctic Council. These states are China, Japan, India, South Korea and Singapore, and all of them joined the Arctic Council in 2013.
Indian Antarctic Bill 2022: Key Points
1-The Bill passed by the Lok Sabha earlier this month seeks to protect the Antarctic environment, and also regulate activities in the region.
2-The provisions will apply to any person, vessel or aircraft part of an Indian expedition to Antarctica under a permit issued under the Bill.
3-There will be a central committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection, which will be chaired by the secretary, Earth Sciences, and have 10 members, not below the rank of joint secretary, from ministries and organisations such as defence, external affairs, National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, and National Security Council Secretariat. Two experts from Antarctic environment and geo-political fields will also be part of the panel that will grant permits for various activities, implement and ensure compliance of relevant international laws for protection of Antarctic environment, and negotiate fees/charges with other parties for activities in Antarctica, among other functions.
4-The Bill prohibits nuclear explosion or disposal of radioactive wastes in Antarctica, introduction of non-sterile soil, and discharge of garbage, plastic or other substances into the sea that are harmful to the marine environment.
5-The Bill specifies penalties for violation of its provisions.