Lok Sabha Passes 'Antarctic Bill': Here's All You Need To Know About It

Lok Sabha Passes 'Antarctic Bill': Here's All You Need To Know About It

by Swarajya Staff - Friday, July 22, 2022 04:07 PM IST
Lok Sabha Passes 'Antarctic Bill': Here's All You Need To Know About It India's Bharati Research Station in Antarctica.
  • The bill seeks to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty, protect the environment and regulate activities in the region.

Lok Sabha on Friday (22 July) passed the Indian Antarctic Bill 2022. Soon after the Bill was passed, the House was adjourned for the day to meet again on Monday at 2 PM. The Bill was taken up for discussion after Earth Sciences Minister Jitendra Singh moved it for consideration.

The Bill seeks to extend the application of domestic laws to research stations set up by India in the Antarctic region. India has two active research stations in the Antarctic -- Maitri and Bharti -- where scientists are involved in research.

The Indian Antarctic Bill 2022 was introduced in Lok Sabha on 1 April 2022. It seeks to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. It also seeks to protect the Antarctic environment and regulate activities in the region.

The treaty came into force 61 years ago which aimed to demilitarise Antarctica, establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only; to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica; to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

India joined it in August 1983. Now, this bill has been introduced to monitor and regulate activities at its research stations that are located in Antarctica. The provisions of the bill will apply to any person, vessel or aircraft that is a part of an Indian expedition to Antarctica under a permit issued under the bill.

Areas comprising Antarctica include: (i) the continent of Antarctica, including its ice shelves, and all areas of the continental shelf adjacent to it, and (ii) all islands (including their ice shelves), seas, and air space south of 60°S latitude.

The central government will establish a committee on Antarctic governance and environmental protection. The committee will be chaired by the Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Ten members, not below the rank of joint secretary, will be nominated from various ministries and organisations such as defence, external affairs, National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, and National Security Council Secretariat. In addition, two experts from Antarctic environment and geo-political fields will be nominated by the central government.

The functions of the committee include: (i) granting permits for various activities, (ii) implementing and ensuring compliance of relevant international laws for protection of Antarctic environment, (iii) obtaining and reviewing relevant information provided by parties to the treaty, convention and protocol, and (iv) negotiating fees/charges with other parties for activities in Antarctica.

A permit by the committee or written authorisation from another party to the protocol (other than India) will be required for various activities such as: (i) an Indian expedition to enter or remain in Antarctica, (ii) a person to enter or remain in an Indian station in Antarctica, (iii) a vessel or aircraft registered in India to enter or remain in Antarctica, (iv) a person or vessel to drill, dredge or excavate for mineral resources, or collect samples of mineral resources, (v) activities which may harm native species, and (vi) waste disposal by a person, vessel or aircraft in Antarctica.

Before a permit is granted by the committee, the applicant has to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the proposed activities. Moreover, a permit must not be granted unless a waste management plan has been prepared for the expedition by the committee.

The bill prohibits certain activities in Antarctica including: (i) nuclear explosion or disposal of radioactive wastes, (ii) introduction of non-sterile soil, and (iii) discharge of garbage, plastic or other substance into the sea which is harmful to the marine environment.

The bill specifies penalties for contravention of its provisions. For instance, conducting a nuclear explosion in Antarctica will be punishable with an imprisonment of 20 years which may extend to life imprisonment and a fine of at least Rs 50 crore.

Drilling for mineral resources or introducing non-native animals or plants in Antarctica without a permit will be punishable with imprisonment up to seven years and a fine between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 50 lakh. The central government may notify one or more sessions courts to be the designated court under the bill and specify its territorial jurisdiction to try offences punishable under the bill.

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