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.
Introducing the draft Bill in the Lok Sabha on Friday, Earth Sciences Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said the primary aim of the Bill is to bring in penal provisions for breaking the law in Antarctica. It has a comprehensive list of permitted activities on the continent and prohibitions, he said.
The Opposition members opposed the Bill. “The Bill is applicable to Indian citizens as well as foreign citizens. How can an Indian law be applicable on foreign citizens? How can you punish a foreign citizen if he or she commits an offence under the law? This is my first question,” said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, demanding that the Bill be referred to the Select Committee or Joint Committee.
TMC member Saugata Roy said, “I do not know what authority our government has over Antarctica, which is still an uncharted territory. Now, the Minister wants to prohibit Indian expeditions to Antarctica without a permit.’’
“Actually, we have a treaty called Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959. It now has 54 signatories. As per that treaty, it is mandatory and binding on all the member countries to have some kind of a provision to prevent or check unlawful activities at their research stations,” said Jitendra Singh.
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 many countries, which are yet to bring domestic legislation on Antarctica, but slowly all countries are doing this as the activity in Antarctica is expected to increase in the coming years. We are also putting in domestic legislation in keeping with the treaty and various protocols to which we are signatory, as this needed to be done,’’ said a senior ministry official.
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 Bill further 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 permit.
There will strict prohibition on damaging 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, or harm them.
Introduction of animals, birds, plants or microscopic organisms that are not native to Antarctica are also prohibited. Violators can face imprisonment as well as penalties.
The Bill also provides for Indian tour operators to be able to operate in Antarctica after acquiring a permit. There are 40 permanent research stations in Antarctica of which two – Maitri and Bharati — are Indian.
Source: india Express